The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Almost done in Riruta!

September 17, 2009

So, right now, really I should be studying for my final Kiswahili exam, but my brain literally can’t take anymore! We will have a couple of hours of review time tomorrow morning with the teachers, so that combined with the studying I have already done today will have to be enough as I feel like I’m starting to get to the point where I just confuse myself more.

Shule (school) was much the same as usal, except for one notable lesson during kiswahili during which we were instructed as a group (Rachel R., Anton, Lydia, Devin, Michael, Mara and I) to draw a comic style story on the board and then write the story depicted in Kiswahili. Our story (in english) went like this:

Once there were seven students, a teacher named Rose, a dog named Unkle and a simba (a lion). One day they left on a boat called the “Hakuna Matata” (No worries/problems). When they left, it was a good day but after they had been traveling for two days a bad and big storm happened. When the storm was over, Anton was dead and gone. And the simba was mysteriously more fat than before. (The simba had eaten him!)

Finally, they saw an island. The island was far away, but later in the day they made it to the island. When they got to the island they were very hungry, but there was no food anywhere. Then they saw that the simba was eating Unkle! The students chased the simba away and cooked Unkle and ate the rest of him themselves with Rose the teacher. The simba was very angry and ran away.

Later, the simba returned with a pirate in his mouth. The pirate was dead and he was holding a treasure map. The students looked all over the island for the treasure. Finally, they found a cave. They went into the cave and found the treasure box. They opened the treasure box, but the treasure was not money, it was love. Everyone was happy and the simba liked the students again and was their friend again. The simba talked to his friends the whales and the whales took everyone all the way back home. The End. Pole Anton. (Sorry Anton).

I do have photographic evidence of Lydia’s fabulous illustrations and will post them as soon as I have a good enough internet connection.

Tonight after shule (which ran really late, thanks to a long history class) I went home and cooked my family “chakula cha mzungu” (white people food). I made spaghetti with a tomato and veggie sauce and was surpised at how well it was received, though it is possible they were just being polite. I ate way too much because I was so happy to be eating something familiar. The kids were also super excited about the cookies! I only wish that I’d been able to bake them fresh ones instead of give them packaged ones, but our oven doesn’t work right now and I wasn’t sure how one would go about baking cookies on either on electric stove or over an open flame.

Actually cooking it was kind of a comedy of errors. I was worried I wouldn’t make enough because my Kenyan family eats way more than my real family, so I ended up with enough pasta to feed about 15 people, even if they are Kenyans, not just the 6 Kenyans and 1 mzungu I was feeding. Also, in the store, even though I thought about it, I failed to follow through with buying a can of tomato sauce that had a tab to just pull it open and as a result was reduced to ruthlessly attacking the top of a huge can of Hunt’s tomato sauce with a much too dull pocket knife until I could pry it back enough with a spoon in order to pour the sauce out. Between the noise from me stabbing at the metal can and the muffled mzugu swear words that went along with this process, the family must have been wondering what on earth was going on in their kitchen. I also used the same pocket knife to dice the vegetables as I really doubted my ability to peform that task using the huge knife that baba usually does without severing a finger or two. But I’m very familiar with my pocket knife as it gets quite a lot of use around the barns and in life in general as its nearly always in my pocket… I can’t tell you how many times in high school I realized I had it with me and had to hide it in the bottom of my backpack and hope no one noticed!

I ended up having a fabulous conversation with mama about the kinds of things I normally eat for meals and snacks at home. She thought that a large salad for lunch or dinner sounded utterly unfulfilling, vegetable sandwiches (without mayo?!?) would be dreadful, peanut butter and bananas sounded salty and unsatisfying and that smoothies my preferred breakfast/snack/dinner/lunch/way of supplying my body with calories in general were completely awful – after all it would be like eating a milkshake without all of the stuff that actually tastes good in it. To each their own, I suppose, though she did think my father’s carrot soup, stir fries and fried rice dishes and my mom’s lasagna and baked desserts sounded good.

After dinner, I gave my family their little gifts tonight. Mercy, the house girl, was so happy with the long skirt of mine that I gave her, especially when she looked at the tag and realized that it had come all the way from the US! She tried it on and it looks stunning on her, much more so than on me (she is also at least 9 inches taller than I am, so all of the fabric complements her tall, slender frame nicely, wheras on me it just kind of look like I’m drowning in a sea of very pretty patterns).

Baba was thrilled with his new knife and cutting board. His old cutting board is very beat up (and indeed is actually half of the original board) and I’d noticed that he kept cutting even tiny things like garlic with a hufe knife, so I got him a smaller knife for those sorts of things and he is so excited to test them out.

I didn’t really have anything for Mungai, the baby, but what do you get a ten month old in a house where toys aren’t really part of the way of life and all the necessary things are already there from older siblings. The two older kids each got a US Flag t-shirt – amazingly enough, the two I brought from home were in their exact sizes, a child small for Daryll Karanja and a child large for Alicia! And they are very excited about wearing them and being like Obama.

Mama was the most diffiuclt to buy something for. I ended up getting her a beautiful (and ridiculously expensive) picture frame that has the word “family” engraved across the top with the promise to mail her a photo of me with the family that we will take this Saturday when we are all dressed up for the goodbye party with the Lewis and Clark group, as soon as I get home this winter.

They have been so kind to me that I still can’t quite believe it. Though I hate Riruta itself and am glad to be leaving, I am sad to be bidding my family farewell, though they have told me that if I am in Nairobi a day or two before I fly out that I am to stay with them and not pay for a hotel and can even bring a friend if I want!

In kiswahili, the word for stranger and guest are one and the same (mgeni). I think it really says something about the culture that one who is a stranger is in the same breath, also your guest. I think its something really missing from our culture back home in the US. Sure, many people are kind and wonderful, but to put it in perspective, if a teacher in your neighborhood who you knew in passing approached you to ask if you would host an African student who spoke limited English and had no experience in the US for two weeks and to really make them a part of your family, how many of you would say yes? I plan 100% on paying forward this incredible favor when I grow up and have a house of my own. I’ve learned so much from my host family, and I feel like they’ve learned something from me too, so I’d love to be on the other side of the equation at some point.

In other exciting news, we had running water in my house today! No one is sure why this has happened, but everyone has been running around filling every possible container with water and storing it in the house. I haven’t tested to see if the toliet flushes, but will have to do that it a bit. I don’t really think that I miss flush toliets that much but whenever I happen to be in a Nakumat or whatever and the chance to use one arises, I am struck by how incredibly ingenious and cool they are! I never thought I’d see a toliet as a novel contraption…the changes in perspective my trip has already brought about!

This is my second to last night in Riruta and I’m SO happy! I can’t wait to be closer to the coast (and safari).

Top Ten Things I Will Miss About Riruta
1. My host family
2. the swahili teacher MJ and his “teacher in his pocket”, Tom that he is always joking about
3. Unkle the mbwa (the dog)
4. The Bob Marley matatus
5. kiswahili classes
6. a cyber café everywhere you look
7. Mercy laughing at my attempts at kiswahili
8. the fact that I actually know my way around someplace in Kenya
9. Rachel’s crazy braids that make her look like a four year old that her mama does for her
10. random trips to Nakumat


Top Ten Things I Won’t Miss About Riruta
1. Taka taka everywhere (garbage! Garbage!)
2. Flea bites
3. Guys trying to buy me as a wife/otherwise propostion me (please, let this phase of my life end)
4. Having to be in the house the second it gets dark.
5. Not being able to go for real runs.
6. Watching TV all the time (especially Big Brother Africa – I hate that show more than I have ever hated any television program ever).
7. bread and margarine for breakfast
8. sitting on my butt for 6 hours of class each day
9. the city smog that makes it impossible to breathe
10. the crying baby every single night

Oh, one last thing before I go, the reason that the baby has been crying so much is because(I think I might have explained this previously) he has been sick. When I got home from school, I asked mama wangu how her day was and what she did. “Oh, the usual, cleaned the house, filled all the buckets because the water is running and then took Mungai to the hospital because he is still sick…” When I expressed my concern and asked how he was and if the dr. had any advice, she said “Oh, no big deal, just malaria, you know?”

Ok, Africans are much less wimpy than us wazungu and are much more resistant and recover generally way faster than wazungu and unless dehyrdation, additional illnesses, etc. complicate things, they don’t really consider it that big of a deal, just kind of one of those pesky childhood illnesses. I feel bad for the poor baby, though – it can’t be fun!

And also, selfishily kind of worried. I’ve been taking my doxycycine religiously (and am now glad that I have even though some have told me I’m ridiculous for taking it in Nairobi where malaria rates typically aren’t that high) and am hoping that it is good enough. Well, I guess now would be a good time in my life to start being a physically hardy individual!

Good night and I miss you all! I feel like I need to come up with a fabulously witty catchphrase of some sort with which to sign each of my blog entries, but I fear that I’m simply not quite that interesting when I’m preparing myself for another night of snuggling with my pals the fleas, so I’ll just sign off and let my bed bugs bite :P

-Hill

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