Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Will You Marry Me?

Will You Marry Me?
This has been a fairly busy week. We have end of term exams. I had to set and invigilate (that means write and then sit through), which is a very boring process, and then I have to start marking. One of Sasura’s teachers got a job in Wajir or Moyale or someplace equally far away last week and quit. With only one days notice, he was gone and left all his classes vacant. All the math/science teachers took part of his load and I was given Physics Form Three. I do not mind taking the class, there are only two students and they are very good at teaching themselves and so it will be more like private tutoring than actual teaching, which I am much better at. The only problem is that I have not done high school physics since, well, high school. And I wasn’t all that good at it then either. I spent this week trying to learn how to do the work, and it was really hard. I wish I had internet or a Physics for Dummies book or something. I had to have the students teach me how to do some of the problems, and I think we will most likely be learning together. Before you say “high school physics? How hard can it be?”, here is the book’s way of explaining how to determine specific heat capacity of water by the continuous flow method:
“Under steady conditions, none of the electrical energy supplied is used in heating the apparatus and, therefore; V1I1t=(m3-m1)c(ϴ2- ϴ1)+H. After the rate of flow is altered, temperature difference is the same and the heat lost in time t is again H. V2I2t=(m3-m1)c(ϴ2- ϴ1)+H.
Hence; (V2I2- V1I1)=[(m3-m1)- (m2-m1)]c(ϴ2- ϴ1)”

And it goes on like that for a few more lines of symbols. Now, I am not saying that it is impossible to learn, and, in fact, it is just a matter of plugging numbers into the correct spot. My difficulty comes from figuring out how to build a ‘well-lagged calorimeter’, learn the difference between an ammeter and a voltmeter, figure out how to explain a ‘constant head tank’, and remembering how to do a math like this: 1/(5 )×8×〖10〗^(-6)×〖66.7〗^2±1/2×10×〖∛407×10〗^(-6), without a calculator (that is an actual problem from the book). Math has never been my strong suit and I generally do all I can to avoid it. That is not generally a quality you want in a physics teacher and for me, a girl who still forgets her 7’s multiplication tables, trying to do cube roots just makes my brain hurt.

Anyway, because of all the extra work taking on a new class entails, lesson planning, exams, and learning the names of my students (Halima- which is easy to remember because every third girl in my school is named Halima, and Arbe- which I remember because of that episode of the Simpsons where they are trapped on a desert island and someone says “I’m so hungry I could eat at Arbys!” and although I have never actually eaten at Arby’s, that line and the Arby’s commercials where they are giving away, like, five weirdly gray sandwiches for the price of one, has always prevented me from ever trying it. Though, now that I am living in Africa and for lunch had goat innards and ugali which tastes like the stuffing of a teddy bear, I would be willing to commit murder to get my hands on just one weirdly gray sandwich. Long story short, Form three physics makes me think of food), I have been very busy and tired. In America I would deal with a rough week by going home, having a glass of wine, taking a hot shower, and watching Glee. Here, I have a different ‘rough day’ routine. I walk home blaring my ipod, rudely ignore the children who are giggling and making fun of me in Kiborana, then once I am home, I start making dinner because if I don’t eat by 7, my neighbor will interrupt me and I’ll be too busy with her to eat until 9pm. I don’t have a cold glass of wine, but I make some Crystal Light, which after the schools water that tastes like a campfire for some reason, is nearly as good. (I know its not, but don’t burst my bubble) Then, on especially tiring days, when I just want to relax and watch Glee reruns, I turn off my lights as soon as the sun goes down. That prevents the neighbors and other villagers from coming to my house all evening just to say hello. The downside is that I have to wander around my house in the dark for a few hours trying not to trip over stools or yank my laptop of the table by the cord. But the evening of peace is worth it.

I have been feeling very protected this week. Not that I ever have felt unsafe, but the people here have been nearly cloying in their effort to make double sure nothing happens to me. I’m sure my parents will love to hear that. But it is kinda like living at home and having your parents checking up on you all the time. I stayed after school once and got a ride home from my principal and met the village chief on the road, he had gone out to look for me when the sun went down and I hadn’t come back. A few days ago, I was spending some quality time in the choo and my neighbor came by and got very worried because I had left my front door open and was ‘missing’. On Sunday night, I was making a phone call to America when a man on a pikipiki (motorcycle) stopped and waited for me to finish. I was a little nervous because it was dark and I didn’t know who it was, but I was within earshot of plenty of people who could come to my rescue. When I got off the phone, the man spoke and I realized it was the Village Chief again. He wanted to chastise me for standing in the dark- who knew what strangers were lurking about?- and then had me walk home while he kept his headlight on me. The next day at school, my principal called me into his office. The Chief apparently called him to let him know of my reckless behavior. I was chastised a second time. On Wednesday, a new group of men arrived in the village. They are from Down Kenya and are here to work on a ‘dam’. I put dam in quotes because they are building the ‘dam’ out in the middle of the desert where there is nothing, not even a village let alone a dammable body of water.  I know the men are new because they are super curious about me. One asked for my phone number, I told him I was not allowed to give it out, and at his persistence, I gave him instead my incorrect email. I apologize to whoever owns ryan@yahoo.com. They all asked where I live and since everyone knows anyway, I just emphasized the fact that I live on a fenced in compound that has a night watchman. Thursday morning, I met one of the men on my way to school. I hate meeting people on my way to school. During my commute I am usually still waking up, I usually have not had coffee or chai, and I am enjoying the solitude, the soft Nora Jones coming from my ipod, and the sun rising over the desert. I do NOT like having someone pepper me with questions for forty minutes. “Where are you from? Did you know Obama is from Kenya? Are you married? Why not? Can I be your friend?” This particular gentleman was from a tribe called Kikuyu, which made absolutely no difference to me, and he wanted to marry me. I thought that was stupid because I was a stranger, I was being taciturn/bordering on bitchy, and he had already told me about his wife. When he proposed, I laughed once, loud and derisive. And then I said no. He then spent the next 10 minutes trying to convince me. His attributes were that he was building a dam (has a job), wanted to open a duka (small store), and was planning on visiting America someday, most likely via me. Nothing I said would deter him and I eventually just ignored him and walked faster. He followed me all the way to school eventually telling, not asking, me he would visit me at home someday. I (lied) said I was not allowed to have visitors, and he, being more than a little dumb, said “name the day and I’ll come!” I again said no, he could not come visit. He said “Friday! Prepare your supper, I’ll be there!” We had arrived at school so I just sighed in frustration, and practically ran into the staff room. He can be certain that I will not be answering my door on Friday. His harassment had made me a little bit cranky, and I apologized to my form one Physics class for my distraction. When I told them why, they wanted to know why I didn’t say yes (really?!). I was still cranky after the lesson and complained some more to one of my fellow teachers, Dub. He told me to report the guy to someone. I assured him that harassment was something I get ALL THE TIME here, and that I was not worried for my safety. It was extremely annoying and ruined my morning, but didn’t feel dangerous. Dub is a good friend and was still worried. He said all the locals are harmless, but these guys were strangers and that I should be wary. I thanked him for his concern. Dub then went and told my principal. My principal is worse than my father (Sorry, Dad). He called me into his office and wanted to get the guy in trouble. He was a lot more worried than Dub and said he was going to talk to the guy. Within half an hour, the guy’s supervisor was in the principal’s office. I was called in to describe the guy, and once I identified him as the Kikuyu, the boss got pissed. He and the principal started yelling in rapid kiborana while I sat there, completely lost. The boss wanted to fire the guy immediately and send him back to Kenya. I tried to explain that the guy didn’t have to lose his job, a simple “stop asking the white girl to be your wife” would suffice. There was more rapid kiborana and I caught the word “ijolle”, which means ‘child’. I was a little offended at being described as a child and my principal saw my face and stopped the rant to ask me how old I was. I told him that, at 25, I was nowhere near being a child and could take care of myself. I realized how petulant I sounded, but I really didn’t want some unemployed stranger being angry with me. I wanted to tell them that it was not my first proposal, it wasn’t even my first proposal this month, but I was afraid they would ask me for a list of names so they could go out and shatter some kneecaps. They eventually agreed not to fire the guy, but he was going to get a stern talking to. While I appreciate everyone trying to protect me, I really do not want to be known as ‘the woman who gets you in trouble if you talk to her’. After my principal nearly had all the primary school kids beaten because they wouldn’t leave me alone and one threw a rock, I am now much more wary about just complaining in the staff room.

I got a package today from America. It feels like Christmas every time. My principal calls me into his office at school and hands me a small yellow piece of paper saying that I have mail. I stare at the scribbled writing trying to use my psychic abilities to figure out who sent me something. Because of school, I spend the next five days, or until the next time I can get to town, gauging my fitness level, trying to guess what would happen to me if I walked the 15 km to town. Worst case scenario: trampled by elephants. Totally worth it if the package has Twizzlers. The next Saturday I bring an extra large plastic bag (here they call them ‘paper bags’ for some annoying reason) to town, the ones here have a picture of Disney’s Aladdin on them, optimistically hoping for a box that is way too large for me to carry. Maybe it contains a two-year supply of cheese, some comfortable Victoria’s Secret bras, and all seven Harry Potters? On the ride to town I anxiously tell everyone that I have mail from America. I am very selfish though and so when they ask what I was sent I say “socks”. I get to town and run straight to the post office. Once I have the package in my hand I usually sit down on the nearest curb and break into the box right there, eating any delicious food items. This week I was able to restrain myself and put the box in the truck behind the drivers seat so I couldn’t be tempted. I wanted to savor the package in my own house so I could have unrestrained glee without attracting too much attention. Once home I used my teeth and nails to break through the layer of “this box has been opened by customs and all the good stuff has been confiscated” tape. The first thing I pulled out was an old stuffed animal I had when I was a little girl and still loved. My puppies at home also loved it and my mom sent it to me slightly chewed. It reminded me of my pets and it, along with the accompanying pictures of my dogs sleeping in tight little balls, made me tear up. I moved onto the comfy looking lounge pants. I immediately put them on. Next in the box: VELVEETA! The most wonderful pasteurized deliciousness made in America. That and the packet of gravy made me squeal/wimper.  I made my way through the sanity saving box, gasping in delight with each item. The noise I made sounded like the noise my little puppy, Lillie, used to make when she saw someone she loved come home- right before she leaked a little puddle of urine. 

I do not know how much the American news is covering the drought over here but over here it is big news. Two years of low, or no, rain has destroyed crops and livelihoods of people all over Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. I heard there were thousands of refugees from Somalia trekking to a camp in north Kenya to recive food aid. That camp is not close to me and I am not seeing the refugees but I am seeing a lot of effects of the drought. Every single day in the national paper, we get the paper but it is always almost a week late, there is a story about bandits killing tribesmen for their cattle. Those stories are always in my region. The last big one had a gun fight between Samburu and Borana tribesmen on the road from Isiolo. Isiolo is about a days drive south of me, it is the closest large town to Marsabit. The bandits were unsuccessful in stealing cattle, but they did kill a few herders. The herders returned fire and managed to wound some of the bandits who ran off. The bandits came back home- here in Marsabit-  and ended up seeking treatment at the local hospital in town where they were arrested. I read these type of stories every day. The government gave some of the herders weapons, AK47s, to protect their herds. But that means everyone is armed and able to steal their neighbors goats. The situation is getting worse, but even if the bandits successfully steal, the cattle are all so gaunt that they aren’t providing milk, they don’t have meat, and they are dying. Even the camels look emaciated. I often see herders carrying the body of one of their goats that died on the search for food. The domestic animals are not the only ones being affected. I never saw jackals when I first came here I heard they were only out very late at night, but now they are out hunting at dawn and dusk. I saw one on my way to school when it should have been sleeping in a burrow someplace. The jackals are not that dangerous, I think, but the elephants are. We’ve been hearing stories about them leaving the protection of the forest to search for food. The road to town is littered with trees trampled by elephants. If you are in town at night you can hear the popping gunshots as the wildlife service try to scare the elephants back into the park. It is now extremely dangerous to walk in town at night because of them.

I haven’t yet seen any human deaths or severe suffering from the drought but I am afraid that it is only a matter of time. I am very lucky to have a reliable water supply and plenty of money to buy food. But the food prices are skyrocketing. A case of milk used to cost 100 shillings, and today it costs 350 Ksh. Eggs used to be 10 ksh each, now they are double that at most places. Some foods have increased by up to 150%. At the current prices, with everyone losing their cattle, no crops growing, and very limited water, I am just waiting for the children to get skinnier. One story in the paper talked about a man who lives in a village to the west of me who watched his herd of 100 camels and 60 cows die in a few short weeks. The man was so devastated that he went mad and now sleeps next to the pile of bones remaining from the herd. Another story told of a young mother with newborn twin boys who has run out of breastmilk and is now feeding her babies water. She said that she was only able to eat a small cup of porridge every other day. It is pretty heartbreaking to read. I can’t imagine seeing it.

1 comment:

Katharine Keith said...

Literally 20 minutes after reading your post, I saw this report on CNN in regards to the famine in Kenya and Somalia. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/07/20/kenya.somalia.drought.sarah/