Monday, October 31, 2011

DikDik: the Other, Other, Other White Meat

Before I came to Kenya, I didn’t know anything about termites. Literally nothing. But I am starting to learn about them. For example: they are attracted to light, just like moths. Unlike moths, they are good at crawling as well as flying. This means that while the moths are flinging their bodies against my windows and door, trying futilely to get inside, the termites with fling themselves heartily into the door, fall to the ground and crawl underneath the giant crack under the door. Once inside, they will fly crazily around bumping into things. I have started stuffing dirty clothes under the door to prevent them (and those frisky spiky legged beetles) from coming in. This is very effective but in the morning when I remove the clothes, I discover that hundreds of termites have ripped off their wings and left them in a pile right outside the door in what I can only assume is a protest. “You don’t like us in your house, Ryan? Fine, we’ll just leave our wings here until you change your mind. Hope you enjoy sweeping first thing in the morning!” Why do they do that? What could the species gain from having wings that just fall off that easily? It is a mystery but leads my brain to fun imagination stories where the termites are flying when the wings drop, causing the termite to spin out of control like an airplane when its wings fall off. I hate the termites. I leave my lights off as much as possible but every evening at least two or three people come to my door to greet me, or sell me eggs, and I have to turn the light on and stand in the open doorway chatting for 15 minutes while all the termites in a five kilometer radius take advantage of the situation and decide to come in and share my dinner. Its annoying sana. My Rendille friend, Joseph, came over the other day to charge his cell phone and so I asked him if he knew why termites lose their wings. He said no and then, wanting to show me just how easy the wings come off, he caught a termite out of the air and proceeded to rip the wings off. Then he dropped it to the ground and let it scurry around, poor thing. I asked him if he ate termites and, to my amusement, he said, with mild disgust in his voice, “Nooo, we Rendille do not eat termites! We are not like those people from Rift Valley Province.” The tribalism here baffles me. Kenyans tend to be very loyal to their tribe and pretty harsh to other tribes. With 50+ tribes in Kenya, it all gets a little confusing. People will tell me things like, “Oh, I don’t like him. Why? Because he’s black.” And every time I hear it, I laugh out loud and point out “you know you are ALL black, right?” And then they laugh and are perplexed as to how I can’t tell the difference. Though, after a year, I am starting to tell the difference. I can tell who is Rendille and who is Borana, and not by their clothes but by their faces. I have trouble with differentiating between Rendille/Samburu because they are closely related. I can even tell, most of the time, someone from Meru or someone who is a Luo. Anyway, back to eating termites. I thought it was amusing that Joseph was so grossed out by eating termites when his tribe is known for drinking camel blood. But who am I to judge? I, after all, enjoy eating potatoes with the skin on, put sauce made of MILK on my pasta, and drink my tea cold. Heinous! Joseph had also come over to brag that he had caught a dikdik in his housing compound the other day. A dikdik is a tiny antelope-type creature. They are adorable, and apparently quite tasty. He was very proud of his accomplishment, even though all he did was trap the thing when it came in to nibble grass. But he promised that the next time he caught one, and surely it would be soon, he would be sure to bring me an entire kg of meat. I am actually looking forward to it. I would only very reluctantly eat a fried termite, but I would gladly eat a dik dik. What if it tastes like a delicious steak? (I doubt it tastes like steak, it probably tastes like goat) He also told me that if I wanted some tasty meat, I should get a slingshot and take care of those pigeons who defecate on my porch all the time. A delicious meal and I get rid of the annoying pigeons? Now wouldn’t that be killing two birds with one stone? (Yes, terrible pun, but I couldn’t resist.) Last Saturday was a long, rough day. I woke up at the usual time, around 6 am, and slowly made coffee and pancakes. I was savoring my delicious cup of hazelnut kahawa (a friend sent me powdered creamer and it was the greatest day of my life). When the little neighbor kids came by yelling and throwing rocks at my door. I ignored the adorable little bastards, trying to train them that throwing rocks will not get my attention. But it wasn’t long before I heard a horrible sound; it was the grating metal of the outside door bolt. I ran to the door but it was too late, I was locked in. I opened the window and tried to get the kids to come back. But the only words I know are “kot! (come)”, “lakisa! (stop that!)”, “Lon! (cow)” and a few other equally unhelpful phrases. I did say “es demt?!” which means “where are you going?” but they just giggled and said they were going home, before running away. They didn’t come back. I, not having cell network in my house, had to wait until a Kiswahili speaking person walked by who I could ask to open the door. What time was that? 8 pm. Yup, I was locked in my own house until eight o’clock at night. Every other day of the year will bring a visitor every hour but the one day I need someone, everyone decides to give me a break. That’s just my luck. I had to make good use of my night-time, lets-not-get-eaten-by-jackals-on-the-way-to-the-choo bucket. In addition to the embarrassment of the situation (seriously, who gets locked in their own house by a bunch of four year olds?), I also missed my chance to go to town and get food for the week. Though, that was more a problem for my tastebuds than an actual crisis. I am getting pretty good at making something out of nothing. (garlic mashed potato pancakes breaded with stale breadcrumbs fried in blue band = super yum). By the time Lokho came by to let me in, I was settled into my isolation and was fine and happy. But I was grateful to her, I didn’t want to explain to anyone what happened if I didn’t show up for school on Monday. That same evening, Lokho and I were watching some movie on my computer and I was multitasking and marking exams when all of a sudden a GIANORMOUS scorpion walked out of my bedroom. I have had quite a few scorpions in my house over the past year but they were all only a few inches long. This sucker was as big as the palm of my hand. Its claws looked like mini boxing mitts. My first thought was to take a picture and I wanted to make sure that there was something in the picture to give it perspective, so (my mother is going to kill me) I threw a pen at it. It had the expected reaction, coiling up with its boxing mitts up and its tail poised. After a few photos, I went about trying to catch him and take him outside. I wanted to kill it but I didn’t want to have to clean up a large handful of scorpion goo. Lokho, who was reading a book at the time, was standing on my couch squealing like a normal 13 year old girl and yelling for me to go get help and to be careful and to not touch it and that she heard someone died from being stung and they were deadly. She didn’t believe me when I said I was unafraid. I explained that even if I went and got a neighbor, they would do the same thing I was doing, and find a way to get it outside. So with her on the couch, I tried to catch the big black scorpion in a bucket. That part was easy, but when I tried to slide a piece of cardboard under the bucket and flip it over, the scorpion scrambled out. I’ll admit, that startled me, and I jumped about a foot in the air when it nearly crawled over my hand. Lokho screamed and then admonished me to at least put shoes on. I figured that was a pretty good idea. Once armed with shoes and the bundle of stiff grass that is my broom, I found the scorpion hiding behind my bedroom door. I felt like a knight with a sword (broom) in one hand and a shield (bucket) in the other. I herded it out of my room and to the front door. I whisked open the door to sweep him out into the night and was immediately assaulted by a million termites- the big red ones. They had been attracted to the light and now poured into my face. At that, I panicked. I jumped back and started swiping at them with my broom, completely forgetting my plan to take the giant scorpion outside and execute it. I kept the door open long enough to get the scorpion out and then I slammed the door shut and stuffed a pair of pants under the crack. I spent the next couple minutes twitching and swiping at the bugs as they flew around the room. Then, I went outside to finish off the scorpion. I turned off the light in my living room, whipped open the front door and danced through the cloud of termites to the porch light switch. I flipped it on then danced, swiping frantically at termites, out of the pool of light and into the gravel. I realized belatedly that I should have been watching to make sure I didn’t step on the scorpion, but I was lucky and the thing had run off. I searched the area and found him sitting on the edge of my porch. I approached, hefted the thickest shoe I owned in my hands, took careful aim and slammed the shoe down on the scorpion. I lifted the shoe and the scorpion walked away without a care. I slammed it down a second time and pissed off the scorpion; he attacked the sole of the shoe with its tail before walking away, annoyed but uninjured. I hefted the shoe a third time and waited till the scorpion was on a nice clear patch of ground, then, with a battle cry of “DIE!” I slammed the shoe down, then stood on it and ground it into the gravel. Then I scooted the shoe back and forth a bit, to smear the scorpion into the dirt, before lifting it again. Nothing; I think the scorpion was laughing at me by this point. Lokho suggested I try a rock. I picked a nice heavy stone, swung and smashed the scorpion. I lifted the rock, and, I’m not lying, the scorpion was fine! What in God’s name are those things made of?! I tried one more time, I SLAMMED that rock on the scorpion; this time I felt some goo land on my hand. I lifted the rock from the now crushed scorpion and crouched down close. It was dead. Finally. I stood up with a sigh and faced my front door. I could not bring myself to walk back through the cloud of termites so Lokho and I stood outside for a little while catching our breath. After a few minutes, she went over to the scorpion and poked it with a stick. “Ryan? Its still alive.” I could not believe it. I told her it was just the remnants of muscle activity but when I went back to the creature and performed a scientific examination (I poked it repeatedly with the stick) I found that, indeed, the bastard was still alive, curling and uncurling its tail. The thing had been hit with a shoe THREE times and a rock twice and it was still kicking. I gave up and went back inside my house, after making Lokho go turn off the light so I wouldn’t have to walk through the cloud of termites. Man, I hate termites. Dates are delicious. I had never had them when I was in America, I didn’t really know what they were covered in and I didn’t like eating things with pits. (like olives). Here in Kenya, dates are common in places like Mombasa where the date stalls line the streets, but here in Mars, they are extremely rare. I don’t know where you can get them. But one of my neighbors came over and brought me a whole bowlful of them and it turns out they are super delicious. Its like candy! (We don’t have much candy in Mars) Then one of my fellow teachers gave me a few dates. It was the teacher who I find attractive and it was really hard not to giggle girlishly when he asked, “Ryan, would you like a date?” (My favorite corny pick up line is “Hey Baby, want a raisin? No? How ‘bout a date?” ) I just smiled and said thanks, like a normal person. The form 3 biology class is learning about genetic disorders and the topic ‘albinism’ came up. The teacher, Mr. Hassan, was lecturing on the topic when one of the students commented that I must be an albino, you know, cause I’m white. Hassan told the students to ask me if I am actually albino. It is not the first time I have been called albino but it is just as amusing the second time. I get to explain that albinos have no color, not in their hair, not in their eyes, not in their skin. I also get to let them poke at my freckles and show them that I am as black as them, the difference is that I am only black in tiny, circular areas. In the staff room, when the teachers finished laughing at the idea of me being albino and having freckles like a leopard, we started talking about actual albinos in Kenya. The albinos here suffer from extreme discrimination. In many parts of Kenya, they are killed. In Tanzania, an albino person can be sold to a witch doctor who uses the body parts in ‘traditional medicine’. Many albinos are killed and eaten to make others rich. This week, I also had a serious discussion about FGM with my form one students. I do not remember what topic I was teaching, but one of the girls asked me to explain why I was not circumcised and why I thought it was bad. I remember a Life Skills lesson that I had at the beginning of the year about FGM and I remember asking how many of them had gone through the procedure. I remember being shocked and horrified about the number but in the months since, I convinced myself that I was wrong. I just couldn’t stand the idea of every single one of these girls having to go through that. But they have. Every single girl in my school, all 150 of them (minus maybe one or two girls from outside the Marsabit area) have had female genital mutilation. They were also shocked that I had not done it. Apparently, some of them were told that without the procedure they would be unable to give birth to children. I assured them that was not true at all. I also explained everything negative I know about the topic. I feel a little guilty because I became angry and indignant, not at them of course, but at their tribal elders. I know I should be open minded to other cultural practices but I just cannot help my abhorrence from expressing itself. I explain that the common name for female circumcision is ‘Female Genital Mutilation’, and then I had to explain what the word ‘mutilation’ meant, because they didn’t know. I told them that some reasons that FGM is dangerous is because of the possible infections, high blood loss, and pain. When I mentioned pain, a couple girls exclaimed, asking if I have seen it, if I really knew just how extreme the pain was. The remembered suffering was so clear on their face that it made my stomach drop. I ended my discussion by begging them to not let their future daughters go through that completely unnecessary procedure. Life in Kenya is never (never, never) dull. Tedious, maybe, but never dull. On Friday, I was in my last class of the day when the sky opened up. It is impossible to teach when the rain is deafening on the tin roof. I finished the lesson using charades; my class thought it was hilarious. I knew that I’d have to walk home soon, as the afternoon went on it was only going to get colder. And since it had been a thousand degrees out just that morning, I had on a light nylon skirt and a t-shirt, no jacket. I wrapped my backpack in a bag and started off home. I was soaked to the skin in ten minutes. The road to Dirib was decimated by the river of water. There was only slippery mud, bare rock, and brown rapids where the road used to be. I made my way along slower than usual, finally making it to a large hill above my house. The last distance should have taken five minutes but it took me over half an hour to get to my door. First, I came across a woman as wet as I was. She was wearing no shoes and had a baby goat under one arm and a panga (machete) in the other. She was clearly frustrated, running back and forth trying to get her herd of cold, unhappy goats to walk down the hill. Half the goats had gone down the hill, some had run up the hill to escape the flood, and some had taken shelter under a scraggly acacia bush. I asked if she needed help and then climbed down into the mud to prod the goats out from the bush. The littlest ones were too tired to walk, so I picked up one and she picked up the other and we went down the hill. My goat was so tired, it was an adorable thing, covered in mud and he rested his head on my chest and bleated softly as we walked. We caught up with the rest of the herd standing at the edge of a wide, deep, fast stream bisecting the road. The woman and I waded in, it was knee deep, and we carried our baby goats to the other side. We went back and forth carrying small goats and pulling big goats across. Once we all made it to the other side, I said goodbye and took a short cut over another hill to get home. I climbed to the top of the hill and saw that the normally rocky valley that I cross to get home was now a river. You could easily go white water kayaking in there. I went back down the hill to find a way around and it took me through three manyattas (housing compounds). But I finally found a way to cross three more knee-deep streams each a couple meters across. It was actually a little scary. I walked parallel to the giant river, walking on the narrow mud bank only a couple feet wide, holding onto the fence in case I slipped on the mud. I made it home safely, but stayed outside in the rain for another half an hour to fill all five of my 20 liter jerry cans, both my buckets, and my wash basin with rain water. I thought about doing some laundry and maybe washing my hair out there by standing under a flooded gutter, but I started to get very cold and figured if I died of pneumonia because I was busy washing my hair in the rain, people would make fun of me. I went inside and spent the rest of the evening drinking hot chocolate. By Sunday, the rain had stopped and everything is back to normal. And by normal, I mean, unpleasantly and disgustingly hot. As much as I hate to admit it, I smell like a camel. The deodorant/ antiperspirant here in Mars is, sadly, not up to the task of either antiperspir-ing or deodor-ing. Or maybe its just hit its limit, maybe it stops working at 10,000 degrees Celcius.

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