It has been a month of trying to get into routine and at the end of the month all I can do is laugh at myself- Africa and routine don’t go together- what was I thinking?!
An Australian friend asks the other day what a normal day is like over here and truthfully, there isn’t such a thing as normal. Everyday although the same in essence, is quite different from the previous.
I do thoroughly enjoy waking up naturally or if my sleep is light, with the noise of a cow or two walking past as my alarm. Just so we are clear, the cows don’t walk around freely, they are ushered past my little shack around 6.15am every morning to spend the day grazing outside the compound. Sometimes I will have breakfast, sometimes I won’t. This is dependent on the day’s activities and whether I am travelling into town or to one of the many marketplaces. If breakfast is taken, it is generally in the form of chai (tea) and mandazi, these deep fried donut like things that are so full of fat that I shouldn’t eat as many as I do, but they are too delicious not to consume in large quantities- a dilemma before the day has even commenced. Lunch and dinner are generally the same type of meal and are dependent on what is around. Sukuma wiki (also known as kale in the Western world) with brown ugali is my favourite. The bean stew with rice was my favourite dish until I found out why the rice was so delicious. I was thoroughly enjoying the white rice here and was convinced that it tastes better than rice from home, this has to be the result of the soil or something along those lines. It wasn’t until I assisted with the cooking of said rice dish that I discovered why it tastes so good. It is cooked with not only water but oil, and I’m not talking a little bit of oil- I’m talking absorption method of at least 1/3 oil, 2/3 water! I’m thankful that rice isn’t taken everyday and when it is, I try my best to limit how much is consumed in fear of becoming, as the kids joke, a big African mama. My favourite snack is a corn bean mixture called nyol, which is munched by scooping with your hands and filtering in your mouth just as you would peanuts. Oh, and how can I forget the chapatti! Once again, thankfully this very oil pastry is not an everyday meal, but is oh so delicious when consumed.
Some days are washing days, some days are trips into town, and others I go out and visit nearby gardens and/or people or help the local brick manufacturer, J—, who is technically my uncle by association. Yes, you read it correctly- I have turned to physical labour in the form of mud brick making and must say, some work is needed to improve the skills before I become employable in this field. It has been rather interesting getting to know the process from pouring the water on the dirt all the way through to binding the bricks together to construct either a building/house or grave. The process would take I say, probably 20 times longer than conventional brick making though when it’s something more natural and is less of a burden on the environment, is that really a bad thing?
Town trips are via a pikipiki, a 2 stroke engine motorbike-no helmet and petrifying muddy roads when it rains- the adventures. C—, my first choice driver for his excellent skills; ability to speak a little English and kindness of not laughing at me when I mispronounce a Kiswahili word, finds it amusing when I let out my semi squeal of mixed sacredness and excitement when the back wheel of the bike starts to slip out from under us due to the level of mud. I wonder if he thinks all “mazungus” are whimps or just me? Admittedly, town trips are becoming more frustrating due to the power issues Siaya experiences, and I mean power issues- one visit entailed my sitting for 5 hours in an Internet café, experiencing 20 blackouts during this time- this is no exaggeration.The length of the blackouts depends on the day, sometimes only a couple of minutes, others, a couple of hours. The travel home is dependent on how I am feeling- I will either get a pikipiki or brave a taxi. For those that have not had the pleasure of experiencing a true taxi in Africa, and I’m not referring to the matutu buses, let me explain the taxi experience of last week. I ventured into town with N—, my sister, for a day trip. On preparing for travel home, we go to the taxi rank- there’s only one in town- and proceed to sit there for around two hours until the stand fills up enough for the driver to be happy with the fares he will get to make the trip. We jump into the sedan, I having no choice but to sit in the front as the driver took a liking to me and wanted to have his hand at attempting to court me while driving his passengers to their desired destination. Jammed in the car was a total of 15 bodies, 4 of us in the front seat alone. As we turned the corner to go over the speed hump- once again, the only one in town- the weight of the car was too much that we were stuck- front two wheels on one side of the hump, rear two on the other. It was an all-in affair with everyone on the street jumping in to help push the car over the hump. Hearing the scrapping of the underside of the car on the concrete hump making me cringe like never before. After about a minute of no luck and me trying my best not to burst out laughing from the whole experience, the driver decides to kick everyone out of the car, drive over and then invite everyone to get back in. I of course, was too precious of a cargo to get out and walk a couple of steps. To make the journey even more amusing was the old man of about 75 sitting next to me, eating corn on a cob. The juices of his crunching drench my face and nearly lead to blindness in my left eye due to the close vicinity of our faces. Once he was pleasured with his snack, perhaps meal of the day, he proceeded to take a nap on my shoulder. I did feel a little bad when I had to jab him in the ribs in order for me to vacate the car upon arrival at our destination.
Market days depend on which of the many markets we are travelling to, I mean- there is literally a market on every day of the week, you just need to pick which one you want to go to. We walk to the markets, ranging from 1km to 12km in journey distance. They are generally all the same- selling food and second-hand Westerner clothing with a couple of the larger markets selling the traditional printed material.
Went to a soccer/football match this month to watch the very popular Kenyan team, GorMahia play some other team-obviously I was with GorMahia supporters and can’t even remember the name of the other team. We didn’t show up to the stadium until half time and we were so late, that there was only standing room and everyone was completely packed in to get a sight of the game. I’m pretty sure it was well over stadium capacity, but such things don’t apply in Africa. Naturally because of my shortness and everyone else’s tallness, I couldn’t see a thing. Once it became apparent a “mazungu” was in the crowd- many photos taken, I guess as evidence- I was pushed up to the front by everyone so I could see, which was quite nice. I did get knocked down when GorMahia scored a goal and the sardine pack that I was a member of decided to jump for joy. Lesson learnt- when in such a situation, you must swim with the school to prevent being crushed. GorMahia won the final and there were happy faces and cheery people all around. Witnessed no fights or any soccer/football ruckus as I was expecting, perhaps a little hoping, from all the pre-warning and concern I was getting in the lead up to the match.
I celebrated my birthday this month for the first time in many years with getting a couple of traditional dresses made; eating some fruit- a rarity in these parts; getting my hair braided and a taste of the local beer Chang’aa, which I am more convinced was gin and not beer- but that is a tale for another time. Amusingly, going into the braiding experience saw me more nervous than climbing Kilimanjaro, I mean, have you seen how tight those things are done?!
This month’s moment of giggle came courtesy of setting expectations instead of just going with the flow. I spent a day travelling with the county governor’s office as they attended a couple of school graduations. When we arrived at the first school, we were ushered into the head teacher’s office where I was told that I was to give a speech for encouragement. My mind went into overdrive- I don’t mind public speaking provided that I am somewhat prepared- this was not prepared.. Looking up on the wall, there was a sign with some pretty inspiring things and from that I found my speech, which I quickly recited in my head- “I read while sitting in the head master’s office an inspiration that is fitting for today- The hardest thing to do is to begin finding. I wish you all the best for proceeding to the hardest thing, finding the next part of your life.” I was quite happy and content with the speech while I was ushered out to be seated in front of the crowd. It wasn’t until we were seated that I discovered the graduation was for 4/5 year old kids graduating prep school before going into primary- there goes my not so age appropriate speech. I settled with a shyly put “thank you for letting me attend, congratulations and enjoy your holiday”. I don’t think anyone understood a word I said, not because it got lost in translation but because they were transfixed on my pasty white skin and thoughts of wonder as to why a “mazungu” was visiting them.
On a side note for anyone that is looking at purchasing Christmas presents in the next couple of weeks, I ask that you consider a gift that is not commercial in nature and will have a widespread impact on many people, not just the person that you are purchasing it for. Such a gift won’t be thrown in the bin by a disappointed child, no tantrums will be had because you purchased the wrong colour or size. Rather it will support and empower a number of people in need. If you are interested, take a look at our website.
Kwa heri, Sam xo
This is the second monthly update from our In-country Coordinator (Kenya), Sam A. Sam A is staying in the village to assist with the implementation and evaluation of Community Classrooms programs. These updates are Sam’s personal account of her experiences in Kenya. Names and other identifying information about particular people have been removed prior to posting.