Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Today is Thanksgiving. I am sitting outside my hotel room in Nairobi watching the rain. I had pizza for dinner and a Spanish omelette for breakfast. I am waiting to get on a matatu that will take me to Loitokitok where I will be helping the new Peace Corps trainees. I had planned on being in Mars by myself for the holiday so I couldn’t be happier. I will get to spend thanksgiving with PC volunteers. I have never met them and they have probably never heard of me but since we are all peace corps, they are part of my extended family and I am very happy that I will get to spend Turkey day with family. There won’t be stuffing, or turkey, or cranberry sauce, but at least I will be with family. I left my village so abruptly that I didn’t really have time to mentally prepare. I know it sounds strange, having to prepare to go to someplace as innocuous as Nairobi but I have been living in Mars and it really might as well be another planet. I hadn’t even been to Marsabit town in weeks and weeks. I just don’t like the hustle and bustle of town life. I like to stay quiet and easy in my little village. The last time I went to town was to pick up a package from the posta. This being a very small village, the guy at the post office saw the package and told his daughter (who is one of my students ) to tell me to come get it. Also, the posta gave a notice to a man who drives a truck for a local NGO who came to Dirib and gave the letter to my neighbor who gave it to me. My principal also knew. While I appreciate the efficiency of the ‘word-of-mouth’ system, the problem comes when the people in charge of opening my mail to inspect it write a detailed list of everything that is in the box on the notice slip. So everyone in my village knew that I was getting shoes, snacks, and a sampling of small liquor bottles. The customs guys were very thorough in writing exactly what type of alcohol (three bottles Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo, Malibu, Jack Daniels… ). By the time I got the box I had at least five people who asked me to share. That day, I also went to town to stock up on food. The rains had stopped for two days which was long enough for a truck to get through and bring bread back to Marsabit. I visited my fundi (seamstress) because she is also one of only two or three places I know of that sells Kenya souvenirs. I bought a bunch of handmade jewelry for future Christmas gifts. I felt like I spent a lot of money but then I realized that I bought gifts for every friend and family member and I had spent less than 10 bucks. Converting to America money always slays that buyer’s remorse. I also went to the area of the market where they sell spices to buy some incense. I was tempted to buy some of the traditional medicines that are sold in small piles all over. They look like piles of kindling or bundles of sticks or even piles of ground colorful powders. I asked what each did and some are for ulcers, some are for arthritis, and some are for malaria. They are all taken by boiling into a tea which is drunk by the patient. While I was tempted to buy some, I figured it was probably useless at best, and dangerous at worst, so I walked by without purchasing. Last Tuesday, I went to school to invigilate an exam. On the way, I had a conversation with a Borana woman. I am very excited and proud to say that it was my first real conversation in kiborana. I can officially communicate in three languages (four if you count me being able to say three full sentences and a couple of swear words in Kenyan Sign Language). The convo was pretty short and nothing impressive but I am still going to be excited about it. There are some days when my life feels almost normal. I get up, get dressed, make coffee, commute to work, etc. And then there are other days when I realize “wow, where do I LIVE?” One day last week, when I arrived at school, the teachers were all excited because they had killed an “olokhe”. They didn’t know the English or Kiswahili name for the animal. They proudly walked me over the hole where the creature had gone to die while regaling me with their stories about how the animal has been prowling around at night, digging holes everywhere, and finally they were able to kill it by stabbing it twice with a spear. When I saw the animal I realized that the olokhe was a spiny anteater ( I think, its head was pretty deep in the hole). And it was HUGE. It was the size of a dog and had human looking feet that could fit into size eight shoes. The body was flesh colored and had sparse, bristly hairs all over. Its tail was long, thin and hairless. If I didn’t know better I would have said it was an “el chupecabra” (google it). I accidentally taught Galgallo, the adorable three year old, how to swear. He now knows “dammit” and “ass”. I am usually pretty good at controlling my language around Kenyans. No one here swears, its very strange. I have been replacing many swear words with the word “awful”. It works to replace $h*t in sentences like“I feel awful”; and it replaces the F word nicely too “I feel awfully awful”. But when I am in my house and talking to myself (yes, I talk to myself), I use the opportunity to get all my swears out. It used to be fine around Galgallo, he was too shy and young to understand what I was saying. But now he is at the age where he repeats everything people say. It is fun to hear him learning three languages at once. But when I kick over my water jug and swear, he is always in my doorway to repeat the word with a big giggly smile on his face. The taxi is on its way to come get me and take me to a matatu headed for Nairobi so I am going to go. I wish everyone in America a Happy Thanksgiving. And Family: I miss you guys so much and I think about you every minute of every day. On holidays, I think about you twice every minute. Love you! One last thing: the best student answer for final exams was from a Form One student who, when asked about the definition of temperature said: The higher the temperature, the cooler the terminology
Saturday, November 12, 2011
I went out for a walk around the village during a lull in the rains and I realized what an entirely new world had emerged. My village looked like other places in Kenya that I have visited. It was green with lush, tall grass. Purple and yellow flowers dotted the fields, children played in puddles and vines crawled over everything. It is beautiful and I wandered around looking for a place to relax in the sun. I found this one place that seemed quiet. It was out of site of the road and overlooked a hill with no grass huts nearby, and therefore no kids constantly yelling at me. I stood there and said to myself “THIS is my new spot”. I was going to go there often with a good book and get away from everything. I stood there for a moment, overlooking my new spot, when before you could say “habari yako” a mother and her son walked up behind me and started chatting. I greeted them and then sidled away down the hill closer to the road trying to be out of sight of all people. But then rush hour started. Everyone and their mother started heading home. I saw a group of my students, a man who asked me what was wrong with me (a person cannot be alone or inactive in Kenya without something being wrong), mamas with their babies tied to their backs, people carrying bags of rice, and lots of Muslims heading home after various Idd celebrations. I had to head home after a half an hour of people staring and laughing at me. I am sure they are thinking “look at that ridiculous mzungu! She’s standing in a field! Just standing! Silly!” Idd is a Muslim holiday, I am not totally sure what it represents, something about the fifth pillar of Islam (Hadji) when people make the nine-day trip to Mecca and something else about the ram that God gave to Joseph to take the place of the son in the slaughter. Anyway, like many holidays, it involves lots of visiting friends and family and lots of feasting. Lokho’s family killed a goat, but by the time they saw me to invited me over, all the good meat was gone. The family cannot afford rice so I was handed a tin bowl filled to the brim with intestines and one small boiled potato. It was one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted. I do not mind all organs. I actually like goat liver (mmm, iron), and I think the kidney isn’t bad. But everything else just looks grey and bumpy, like toad skin or raw octopus tentacles. Most people do not use spices for cooking, maybe salt if you are lucky. And this goat had some nice yellow fat. Every time I get served matumbo, the taste gets worse. It is too tough to cut with a spoon, so I had to take nice big spoonfuls and then chew for a few minutes to get it to small enough pieces to swallow. I used the potato to cleanse the palette every few bites but my brain could not stop trying to identify each bite (“Is that the gall bladder?”). They do not usually serve drinks with meals either, so no washing anything down. I had to be polite, after all, it is very generous of them to feed me the little meat they have. Lokho tells me that they only get meat on very special holidays. I ate for about half an hour before I just couldn’t eat anymore. There were a few bites left, including one huge chunk of what looked like stomach wall with a border of yellow, bubbly fat. I left it and Mama fed the rest to Galgallo. I really hope she wasn’t offended by my lack of appetite so I made a comment later about how I usually do not eat meat. I don’t think it helped. I hung out for awhile with the family learning new kiborana words. When I stole Galgallo’s favorite rock and playfully held it out of his reach he giggled adorably repeating “not yours! Not yours!” and when he and his little brother (who is one and barely talks) played with the creepy crawlies that were everywhere, I learned my favorite Borana word thus far “coco” which means something scary. After a couple cups of chai to kill the matumbo aftertaste, I went home and as soon as I got in my door, Lokho followed me in. She said she had been outside when I left her house and she had just seen a large animal run by that she thought was a hyena. That freaked me out though she seemed completely calm. A hyena? On my front porch? Yikes. These people are crazy walking around at night. I did see that my neighbors had a big ‘animal poking’ stick which must make them feel safer. They used it recently on a pack of nine or so wild dogs (not Wild Dogs but feral dogs). Dogs scare me the least, but nine were in the compound this morning at 5 am howling like wolves. The leader of the pack ran past me. Most of the dogs here are scraggly and thin and diseased looking. This one looked like a cross between a pit-bull and a grizzly bear. The hyenas are afraid of people but the dogs aren’t. I toss out the remains from dinner and within seconds, the dogs are sneaking up to eat it. At least the hyenas are smart enough to run away when they see you. I haven’t gone to town in an entire month. I really have grown to hate town. Next year I am going to try to find a way to avoid town as much as possible. I just have to find a way to stop needing food. This last month without town was nice. I really enjoyed having the extra time to relax. I am finally remembering how to sleep in, though I am still up at eight AM and getting people coming to my door asking why I am still sleeping at such a late hour. But its better than waking up before six like I have been doing. I haven’t really intentionally been skipping town. I need to go at the very least to buy toilet paper (there are only so many creative alternatives). The first week was the Brother’s fault, it was pouring rain and they didn’t want to drive in it. That was a very good decision. The next week, it was raining and I didn’t want to go, so I stayed in my pjs and purposely missed the vehicle. The week after that was probably my fault as well but I can’t remember the reason I skipped, most likely laziness. This week, however, I had fully planned on going. I even wrote out a grocery list (it said “everything” in capital letters). It was raining but I wasn’t taking my chances. The Brothers usually go around ten o’clock so I got dressed and was out the door by nine to call them and double check that they were leaving despite the on and off rain. I walked around my compound in a leso (colorful cloth wrap) and flip flops searching for service while the rain had paused. I was still hearing this loud rushing noise and finally figured out that it was the river (well, what is normally a rocky gully). It was shockingly high and fast with waterfalls and rapids all over the place. I was watching mamas collecting water in jerry cans and noticed the kids running back and forth on the banks throwing rocks. I thought that was pretty risky behavior and the mother instinct in me had me standing there watching them from afar. All of a sudden, all the kids started screaming. I knew immediately what happened. One of them fell in the river. The kids were jumping up and down in a panic and every adult in the area ran down to the river to see if they could help. Everyone on my side (the wrong side) of the river also ran down. I took my shoes off and slipped through the mud with everyone else. The only word I could understand was “ijolle” (child). Some of the men carefully and slowly crossed the waist deep river, holding onto any flotsam they could find. I did not attempt to cross, I would have been washed away. I stood on the banks with the rest of the village trying to careen my neck enough to see what was happening. The village chief came by and finally told me, in English, that the young kid was pulled out of the river and was going to be fine. But he was worried because everyone needed to get from one side of the river to the other, and clearly it was too dangerous. He and the assistant village chief rounded up all the strong men and found a place where the river was narrow but swift. They made a human bridge, slowly passing each person across. Twice, a mama fell in the water and the whole village panicked. But eventually, everyone got across. I walked back to my house covered from the waist down in thick mud. I took a quick bath, changed all my clothes, and went to St. Pauls to catch the vehicle. Of course I missed it. As a consolation prize, I hung out in the Brothers house for awhile eating mandazi. They later apologized for leaving me and gave me a two day supply of mandazi to make up for it. I am still desperate to go to town, at least to get a package from America that has arrived for me. This is a very small village and the guy who works in the posta told his daughter, who is one of my students, about the package. Also, I got an official notice from my principal, who passed it to a fellow teacher, that listed everything that was in the package. So the rumor spread and now everyone I know is aware that I have received a package full of "energizer batteries, shoes, and miniature alcohol bottles". Thank you, Amanda! It has been raining paka na mbwa (cats and dogs) for the last few weeks. I am trying to hold on to my love of the rain, but it gets more difficult each day. The road is deteriorating to the point where I actually cannot get to school if it is raining. It is just too dangerous to cross the rushing rivers. And when it is clear enough that I can make it, the mud is still ankle deep in many places. My teachers are always impressed that I show up to school, especially when I show up with only my shoes being covered in mud. I have found a use for the constant crowd of children that follow me around. Since they spend their days playing, they know all the best routes across the rivers that will prevent you from getting completely soaked. It is a very handy thing. You just walk up to a creek, peer around you for a second, and from out of nowhere a child will appear to guide you. Its like magic. This Friday was a rough day and almost made me curse the rain. I had already missed Tuesday and Thursday because of the rains and I spent the days cleaning and doing all my laundry. Friday was the last day of classes before exams so I had to get to school to at least review with my students. The clothes I hung on the line on Thursday were still damp when I went to bed so I left them on the line thinking that, if it rained, they would just get an extra rinse and there had to be some sunshine before the weekend. But I was very wrong. Over the night it started to rain very, very, very hard. It was a real storm complete with lightening. I have no trees in my yard so one end of my laundry line was hooked to an open window. I woke at 3 am to remove my soaking wet couch cushions and move my coffee table out of the splash zone. I had no choice but to let the rain flood that corner of the living room. I got up as soon as the sun was up and went outside in the rain to take down my clothes so I could shut the window. I stepped outside into the storm and my mood immediately dropped. My clothes had gotten so wet that the line couldn’t hold them. Sometime during the night, the line had snapped, leaving all my clean clothes on the wet, muddy ground. Wonderful. Grumbling, I picked up everything, (I am going to have to rewash it all…), and took down the line (…and I’ll need to buy a new laundry line). I went back in my house and got ready for school. It was foggy, cold, wet, and muddy. I was not at all looking forward to the walk to school. I put on leggings and a loose skirt that would dry quickly if it got wet. My freshly washed shirts were all muddy and wet, so I had to wear a white button down blouse. Great for wet t-shirt contests. I put a large, yellow plastic bag with a picture of Aladdin over my backpack (I made sure Aladdin was facing outwards, you know… fashion first!) and set off for school. As I passed Lokho’s house, she came out and gave me my bright yellow umbrella back. I like that umbrella because its yellow and has Japanese writing and baby dinosaurs on it (isn’t it amazing the stuff you can find in a used clothing market?). It wasn’t really raining as I started to walk, so I tucked the “Adventures of Qiqi and Keke” umbrella between my body and the backpack. I crossed the first river, the one that usually prevents me from leaving my house. But today it was just a small, unbelievably muddy creek. As I was slipping down the road towards school, I noticed that, since the power was out and I got dressed in the near darkness, I had my leggings on inside out. Awesome. I was alone on my walk to school, presumably everyone else was being smart and staying inside. I crossed two more small rivers, managing to avoid getting too wet or muddy. I was listening to my ipod and cruising along getting lots of friendly waves from people standing in the doorways of their manyattas. How awful would it be to have a stick roof and a mud floor during the rainy season? I would expire from pure grubby frustration. By the time I got to the last big river in between me and Sasura, I was really tired of walking the really long way around to find a dry path. I went to the water’s edge and studied it for a moment. It didn’t look too deep; surely those are small rocks causing those eddies. I looked around, I knew from experience that it would take me 20 minutes to find a path over the water, and it would be very muddy. So, I thought, its only about six big steps to the other side and I would be, at worst, stuck in wet shoes for the day. So I charged on through. And, Oh, how very wrong I was. The first step took the water to my knees. The second step was up on a rock and I only had time to think “Oh, that first deep step was a fluke” before I took a third step that brought the water up my thighs. I sent a quick thanks to the big guy upstairs that no one was around to watch me practically swimming across the road. I surged the last couple steps onto the firm-looking bank only to find that it was not firm at all. Not even a teeny bit; it was the furthest thing possible from firm. I would have rather gone back through the river. The ground was mud/quick sand. I had one foot knee deep in muddy water and the other foot sank knee (KNEE!) deep in the juicy mud. I paused for a split second to consider my options. I figured speed was the key and tried to run up the bank. Needless to say, I was, of course, wrong. But, strangely enough, my tights are made out of some magic material that (sorta) repels mud. I escaped with mud thickly coated only from the shin down. I walked the rest of the way in a strange mood, I was happy. Somehow, fighting with the environment gets my mind effectively off any other stresses. And plus, I had that spring in my step that comes from when you just know you look good. I mean, seriously, if my high school nemeses could see me now. I had mud up to the knees, wet up the thighs, I was holding my skirt up high, I had tights that were inside out, a backpack covered in a plastic Aladdin bag, I was twirling a baby dinosaur umbrella (when it wasn’t packed like a sword in a scabbard), and I was singing, loud and most-likely off key (I had headphones on, I couldn’t hear myself). I felt like Sam Gamgee from Lord of the Rings (I love Sam, but lets be serious, he’s a dork). Or a hobo. I got to school, got laughed at by the teachers for my stupid “I’ll just walk straight across the river” idea, chastised by my everyone for attempting to come to school today (I was able to reassure them once I explained that I was quite proficient at swimming) , and made fun of for my inside out tights by my students. Then I got to spend the entire day with squelching shoes that were full of river water. When it was time to head back home I walked through Kubibagasa (the village where the school is) and was stopped by a whole crowd of people. They asked me if I knew there was a river to cross. I said yes and I asked if there was a way around. There wasn't, so I said "hakuna shida" (No prob!) and marched off to the river with the crowd laughing at me. I probably shouldn't have crossed the river, but what was I supposed to do? I put all my stuff in the Aladdin bag to keep it dry, hiked up my skirt and prepared to go in. The crowd followed me down to the river to watch and just as I put one foot in, a young man came up and told me to wait. He gallantly rolled up his cuffs and took my arm to lead me into the water. He slowly and carefully took me across. It was a good thing too, the river, while still looking shallow, had gotten waist deep. I am making a promise to myself that I will no longer try to cross a swollen river. I am not going to risk it. This week, one of my students asked me about homosexuality. In Kenya, homosexuality is very taboo. When I said that in America, many gays and lesbians get married, the girls gasped like I just pulled a unicorn out of thin air. The questions that arose were amusing. I got asked “when two men marry, who becomes the wife and who becomes the husband?” I was asked about homosexual sex, and I tried to gloss over the topic. But the girls wanted details. It was really difficult to explain how homosexual sex works without sounding like a cheap porn novel. They wanted to know if two men could have children. And, since America is clearly allowing all kinds of sin, is it legal to marry your brother or have sex with animals? And worse, can you marry outside your clan? And importantly, isn’t it illegal to have sex before marriage? When I answered “no, it is not illegal”, the student asking the question, called me closer, cupped her hand around her mouth to whisper “No, I mean… is it legal to have sex with someone who you are NOT planning on marrying?” This is the last week of school. We are doing exams and then everything is finished. I am hoping to fly to "down Kenya" the day after Thanksgiving. I am going to celebrate Thanksgiving a day late and hopefully have some delicious non-Kenyan food with some American. That is about as close as I'll get to tradition. I am still very much looking forward to it.