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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hello, howareyou?!?!?

September 7, 2009

I am so embarrassed right now! I stopped by “Mwalimu” Ken’s house to see if he would mind if I used my computer there for a bit as I had left it packed with the rest of my safari stuff, in order to at least type a letter home even if I could not send it because none of the internet cafes had working service. I thought just typing the letter would make me feel better and less homesick. Instead, I walked in and just about burst into tears when I walked in and saw the Clifton family all sitting there and eating dinner together. He was super nice and said of course I could use my computer there and his wife Lisa even came and gave me a hug and offered me a cell phone to call home, but of course I couldn’t get a hold of anyone!

I’m frustrated right now because it is too expensive to keep using my host mama’s phone to call home, but home could call me at her number and no one has. (I know its expensive that way too, but even a five minute conversation would be wonderful). I called and left a message on my home phone giving my host mama’s cell number yesterday, so hopefully someone will figure out what to do with it at some point. (Though at this point she keeps cheerfully informing me that none of my family has tried to call yet…great. Just what I want to hear!)

I ended up switching my small backpack for my large one and taking my laptop back to my host family’s house, but am not sure if I can use it there or not. I think that baba (a lawyer) doesn’t even have a computer and I don’t want to flaunt my american wealth or be offensive in anyway at all.

Though my family is middle class here, they would be considered poor in many ways by US standards. That doesn’t seem to matter though because they are very happy and so welcoming and giving which makes me feel even more like the stereotypical ungrateful, snobby white mzungu.

I keep surprising myself by how materialistic I am. I have never thought of myself as being so, but the truth is, I really am. Having stuff is comforting in some ways, a way to fill a space and mark it as your own, a way to define who you are, a way to explain yourself to others and remind yourself of things and people you enjoy and love. Frankly, I’m disgusted with myself that I miss things like the piles of polar fleece blankets and I comforters I normally sleep under (yes, even in the summer); the small library of books that takes up every available place in my room at home; always having CDs, stereos, music of some sort at my fingertips, a variety of different types of clothes to select from, a room of my own and a well treated and well fed wonderful mbwa (dog) of my very own to greet me when I walk in the door.

The funny thing about this though is that if I were camping out someplace beautiful in the wilds of Africa without the city and crush of people I wouldn’t be missing material stuff at all. I don’t particularly like cities, especially real not Portland cities, so I think what I’m really missing are the things that could distract me from the fact that I am indeed in a city!

Other than a few pictures and a journal, I have brought nothing frivolous and comforting with me at all. I am sure envying Meryl and her little red stuffed dog! But enough about me and my distressingly (in the negative sense) capitalist, consumerist and utterly American mindset.

Lets move o to the interesting and wonderful things about today, my generally shortcomings as a human being and world traveler aside!

This morning started with another shower in the loo-room. My mama was so worried about the water being warm enough for me that it was almost scalding and I had to mix it with some of the cold water. Next was breakfast and the children were being so fussy that I was able to get away with just ½ cup of chai and a piece of bread.

Mama wangu (my mama) walked her children to school and then came back to take me to my school. She told me I looked sharp today. She says that about any of my clothes that make me look larger/chubbier. Today I was wearing my huge elastic drawstring man-sized Goodwill safari pants and a polar fleece jacket, so I probably did appear to have magically gained 50 pounds overnight. Mama showed me the way to school and then promised to come back and pick me up after.

Swahili classes were hilarious as usual. I’m in a new group with Alex, Kai, Lydia, Laila, Elly and Zach now that we have moved from having classes at the Guest House to having them at the house the Cliftons are renting in Riruta. It is a huge house and so nice – it even has a flushing toliet! Our first session today was with mwalimu Julius and we reviewed the homework and compiled a huge list of the verbs we know.

Next we had a tea break, complete with coffee, prepared chai, hot water, hot milk, tea bags, cake, suger and biscuits (cookies). Tea time is ridicuously colonial and British but I can already tell I will miss it when I go home. It is such a nice reward to have a nice cup of tea after a couple of hours of class.

Then back to Swahili class with MJ as teacher in order to learn numbari (numbers). It was very funny especially when we were doing mulitplication and division because most of us were having trouble with the math, not the Kiswahili.

Finally it was time for lunch and all of us wazungu gathered around to see what the mamas had packed us. I had the leftover rice and mbogas (vegetables) from Saturday night along with bananas and apples. Most people had some combination of rice, ugali, chapati, meat and veggies but a few had omlette sandwiches like Rachel and Lydia had perhaps the most interesting lunch of all – a bunch of popcorn, a hard boiled egg and the biggest avocado I have ever seen in my life from her family’s avocado tree. She couldn’t manage to eat the whole thing and gave Lisa and I a wedge with a little salt to share. It was the most delicious thing I have eaten in Kenya.

Also during lunch, Alex showed a group of us (Zach, Anton, Rachel and I) where the football/soccer field was and we agreed to meet for a run that evening.

Back in class we had a history lecture about the concept of a civilization in general and then pre-colonial African societies in particular and whether or not they constitute a civilization. We discussed the notion of different races of people which really upset some of the non biology students who didn’t understand that by acknowledging race we are only acknowledging that there are groups of people who have more in common physiologically and genetically with one another than they do with other groups of people; not trying to say that one group is in any way superior to another!

We had our second tea break and then the lecture continued discussing the formation of different tribes in East Africa. After class mama wangu met me outside the gate to make sure I didn’t get lost, which was very sweet of her. It is less than a ten minute walk from school to home (at mama’s pace, 3 minutes at mine) and there are only 3 turns, but still it was nice of her to come for me.

I went home, changed into my “jogging kit” and went back to meet Alex. While we ran/jogged around the field, Beto, Peggy, Lisa, Michael and Miles all played football with some of the local boys who taunted them constantly in Kiswahili. Kim even found some guys to play basketball with and was very excited about that.

Alex and I ran for about ½ an hour. It was really hard – we both haven’t run in just over a week and the elevation here is 5,000 feet, considerably higher than at home so even though our muscles weren’t that sore, breathing got pretty hard rather quickly, but we did make it a whole ½ hour so we are planning on going again for longer soon. We are very excited for how easy running at sea level is going to seem once we reach the coast after two weeks of running here!

I then tried unsuccessfully to find an internet café to blog + e-mail home and when I couldn’t find one that was when I ended up at the Clifton’s house/school in such an embarrassing state, all of a sudden tremendously homesick despite a very good day.

I went home, had dinner with mama (she feeds the children right after they return home from their school and baba was stuck late at work) which was chapati she had made earlier in the day; a salad of lettuce, tomato and onion and a dish made of spinach and potato. She was very pleased to see that I “take much salad!”, though my stomach is still upset. Alex recommends yogurt (live cultures) to help with that, so I will have to get some soon and try that. Doxycycline is an antibiotic which means that as well as killing the nasty malaria bacteria it also kills many good bacteria which help your digestive system to function properly, so replacing some of the good bacteria through consumption of yogurt might make me feel better.

I played a fun game of “shingili wapi?/where is the coin?” with Daryll after dinner this evening that was ery fun and taught him clapping game plus the American “got your nose” game for little kids. He thought it was hilarious and has just finally learned to call me “Heel” instead of “Anna” (the name of last year’s L+C student).

He is my little buddy and tonight he was not sleepy so he was in the bunk underneath me singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” so I started singing it with him until he fell asleep. The children are very loud when they sleep so I am on the top bunk right now with my journal, a pen and my headlamp!

Also, my problem of needing an imaginary pseudo boyfriend may have solved itself. I have a small collection of photos from home, one of them being a picture of Bryan and I playing a board game from this past Christmas. I described him as being “rafiki wangu” (my friend) from secondary school to the children and my host moma demanded to know if he was my “best friend” (with air quotes, raised eyebrows and a wink) or really just my best friend with no air quotes or strange eye gestures. I explained that Bryan is one of my nearest and dearest friends, but very much a brother to me and that our families are very close too, but she is convinced that we are dating. She has even been asking me how many children we wish to be blessed with?!?! NONE! I said and then gave up and moved to the next phot which was of me and Lance at the Ribsy statue in Grant Park and that distracted her sufficiently as she is terrified of dogs and so she couldn’t believe that I was crouching down and hugging one with a big smile on my face.

It makes sense though. For the most part, the dogs here are mangy strays and are for the most part not treated well. It makes me very sad. Many of them appear defensive and aggressive and you avoid them if they do not avoid you to begin with. They are beautiful animals for the most part. Occasionally you will see one that has characteristics of a recognizable domestic breed, but for the most part it appear that they have been feral long enough that they have reverted to the archetypal camp follower nondescript sort of dog type. They are of medium size (probably would be about Lance’s size if in good weight) and are the prettiest tawny, sandy and sable colors. They have almost pointy to somewhat flopped over ears, big paws, narrow ribcages, deep chests, slender muzzles and the most gorgeous amber eyes which tend to be outlined in black markings reminiscent of pre-teenage Goths experimenting with too much eyeliner or ancient Egyptian kohl. They are graceful and sight hound like in their movements, slinking rather than bounding.

The man who lives in the wing of the house that the Cliftons are not using owns a nice one of these dogs who is tame and well taken care of. His name is “Uncle” and he is a bit timid but very sweet and quite curious bout all the wazungu (white people) coming into his house. He is a very privileged dog by Kenyan standards – he is even allowed into the house. He likes it when I scratch under his chine and along his spine. I am very glad for a dog to pet every now and then, even if he is not Lancelot.

And now, once again a list of amusing Kenyan anecdotes that didn’t quite fit in anywhere else.
1. Mzungu moment of the day – Mama asked me to give her my dirty laundry, anything at all and she would do it. I remembered Ken saying that they might want us to do our own undergarments so I asked about that. Mama was very flustered and I quickly gathered I should do them myself. Luckily everything is quick drying and purchased so that it can indeed be washed without trouble in a bucket, so I was able to take care of that during my morning “shower”.
2. Kai is super tall and apparently his family was joking about cutting off his feet and cooking and eating them so they could get tall too!
3. Watch the movie “The Constant Gardener”. You will see children running up to Rachel Weiz and saying “Hello, howareyou?” – that is what it is really like, though I am decidedly less glamorous than Rachel Weiz by far!
4. Today when walking down the street, two young men complimented Alex on her “nice ass.” We have no idea if they really understood what they were saying or not.
5. Another group of guys also told Alex, Rachel and I that we are beautiful. Zach and Anton felt most left out!
6. The bed is creaking underneath me something terrifying – I think the hearty potato dish at dinner may have been just enough to push me over the weight limit for this bunk!


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