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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mombasa....

September 20, 2009

Wow! The past two days have been totally overwhelming.

Yesterday, my day started as usual with an AM run and then margarine on toast. But then instead of school or an outing with Mama, I finished my second essay for history about my homestay in Riruta (which was also my “bus pass” to get to Mombassa) and then got dressed in my fancy dress.

I still don’t like the top as it still accenutes my already exaggerated by east Africa chubbiness, but the skirt looked great and mama was pleased by the number of compliments it received. (Walimus Ken and Rose both informed me that it made me look quite shapely, haha) It is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

We had an East African feast at the Clifton’s house/school with all of the other host families and their L+C students. Some of the mamas worked together to make huge vats of rice, mokimo (potatoes, corn + spinach mashed togethere), chapatti, an mbuzi dish (goat stew of some sort), a salsa like salad and sliced oranges. There was also tons of soda – everything from black currant flavored Fantas to Cokes to my personal favorite “Stoneys” – a sort of gingerale that isn’t quite soda because it doesn’t really have that much sugar in it and is kind of bitter. The last gulp tastes so strongly of ginger that it kind of burns your throat on the way down.

I ended up sitting by Zach and his host brother for most of the lunch. Zach’s brother informed us that by the way were both guzzling down Stoneys that we must both be very big alchol drinkers which made us laugh because we are among those on the program who drink the least!

Zach’s family had also purchased for him some traditional African wear, a sort of woven set of shorts and a shirt that only serve to increase the resemblance to Jesus. He loves them and I don’t think he’s taken them off since. Lisa’s mama also had a dress made for her, though her dress was much more African than mine as it had a few ruffles going about the shoulder (my mama wouldn’t let me have ruffles as she said that my shoulders weren’t big enough for them!).

It was incredible to be with all of those amazing people who had welcomed all of us strange mzungu into their homes all at once. Their genoristy and open heartedness has been truly incredible.

After lunch, my family and I took a series of matatus and Citi Hoppas so they could drop me back off at the Guest House. Baba insisted on carrying my big backpack which was funny because he kept saying that he did not believe I could ever have carried it in the first place, but I had already done the 10 minute walk from Ken’s house to my family’s house in Riruta with it on just fine and Baba could hardly make it the 200 feet to the bus stop without weaving from side to side. He also almost fell out of the matatu while wearing it and almost dropped it another dozen or so times. I was getting a little worried because I had thought that I would carry the big bag so it had all of my important stuff in it – money, cell phone, laptop, ID and video camera!

But eventually, mama, baba and I did make it to the Guest House and dropped me off with a handshake from baba, many hugs from mama and many thanks all around. Mama also got my e-mail address! We are going to be pen pals when I return home and I am very, very excited.

At the Guest House, I tracked down the room that Rachel had already checked into for us and changed into my bathing suit so I could join a bunch of the L+C students and Rachel’s host siblings and cousins in the swimming pool. Of course, I couldn’t remember where I had packed my suit and so had to dump everything out on the floor first, but I did find it and had a great time swimming. It felt so great to be in the water after two weeks of not really totally bathing or showering and the shower afterwards felt even better.

At dinner that night, I ate only salad, cooked carrots and fruit because I was so excited that no one was forcing fried dough or potato product onto my plate! Also, during dinner it began to rain and a small thunderstorm occurred during the night, which was wonderful and so very much needed by the very dry area.

In the morning, we woke up to finish packing, eat breakfast and get on the bus to Mombassa. The ride took almost all day. We left at eight thirty and arrived at our hotel on the coast a little bit before six. Rachel and I decided to be roommates again because we get along really well and don’t drive each other crazy in the slightest. (Or at least I don’t drive her crazy – she doesn’t have any habits that would drive anyone else crazy, but she is a very sound sleeper which is excellent because she doesn’t find my habit of not sleeping to be irritating). Plus, at the Guest House last night we bonded over a shared love of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was pretty excellent.

On the drive to Mombassa, I sat next to Devin, which was great. Neither of us was really feeling that talkative and so we were both able to alternate between reading and listening to our ipods while staring out the window and watching the beautiful African scenery fly by. We drove by: (well, through, really) a huge national park the size of the state of Connecticutt; the maximum security prison in Kenya; the area where the German forces attempted to enter and take over British East Africa; elephants, wildabeasts; ostriches; giraffes; cows; goats; Maasi, Kamba tribespeople making charcoal and many small villages.

We stopped for lunch at a village in the ½ way point. I wasn’t feeling very hungry (and certainly not for more fried dough!) so I opted for the drinkable strawberry yogurt. Almost all of the yogurt here comes in cartons like the little containers of milk served at grade schools and is meant to be drunk straight out of the carton, not eaten with a spoon. I quite like it – though this particular brand of strawberry yogurt tasted not at all like strawberries and only vaguely fruity at best. But its as close to a smoothie as I’ve come since leaving the US so I was happy!

After arriving in Mombassa and checking in, we all took a few minutes to get dressed up nicely (no uncovered arms or shoulders for women) and went out to eat some traditional Swahili food. It was delicious – I feasted on warm naan bread and way too much of a fabulous spices vegetable dish with eggplant, carrots, peas, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that some of the spices didn’t agree with me as I’m currently suffering from the worst upset stomach I’ve had since arriving in Kenya, but oh…was it worth it!

Momassa was very, very cheerful and busy tonight because it is the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting Muslims practice at the end of their calendar year), so everyone was celebrating. After dinner we went to a carnival/festival with swing rides, ice cream for sale. Before we all went in, David Sperling said he thought there would be horses and camels, but there weren’t any to be seen at all, so of course I was disappointed. The carnival was really overwhelming, but in a fun sort of way. I’m not quite sure why I find Nairobi so much more intimidating, but for whatever reason I’m much more comfortable in Mombassa. The only problem with the carnival is that it was really dark because the city has been rationing electricity. There were so many announcements over the loud speaker asking mamas to please come pick up there lost children at the Red Cross Tent. Also, Rachel and I made several unwanted friends! (More on that later).

Because of the carnival’s power shortage, most of the rides/swings were being powered by teams of young men simply pushing them along by hand. It was pretty incredible to see. The air smelled like corn roasting, curry spices, the heat of too many human bodies in one place, frying oil, exotic spices, rotting trash and hints of various perfumes or oils as well dressed muslim women would brush by. When I imagined going on this trip, I never thought that I would do something like go to an end of Ramadan festival, but now that I have I’m really glad I did – it was a cool experience and a once in a lifetime sort of thing.

After the carnival, Rachel and I were very excited to rush back to the hotel and take real showers once more! When I got out of the shower she informed me that she thought she heard others from the group out and about, so wearing our safari pants and t-shirts (all comfy for bed, or so we thought) we discovered that a big group of L+C students was in the bar at the hotel. Before joining them, we snuck back up and put on our skirts again because everyone else was still dressed up and I’m starting to finally feel some sense of shame regarding my really ugly (but oh so comfy) safari pants that literally are man sizes and stay on me only through the fortunate feature of incredible drawstrings as well as an awful lot of luck.

I didn’t have anything to drink after the yummy but not quite agreeing with me Swahili dinner, but Rachel did try her first Tusker. She liked it! Crazy girl! But I think I’ll stay her friend anyways, despite her unfortunate preference for the Keynan national drink of choice.

Now I’m finally in bed after this long day and am really excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow morning we are eating breakfast in the hotel as a group, then meeting up to go shopping for our kangas, etc. so we will be properly dressed and veiled for our muslim home stays. I am really excited to pick out a pretty one and am to get a pattern that is mainly my favorite color, green.

After that, we will go have a Swahili lunch, wander around the city some more and then have dinner at the “Mombassa Club”, which Professor Clifton tells us will be our “colonial experience” for the trip. Sounds intriguing…

I miss you all and wish you could be here with me on this adventure! I’m having a fantastic time and learning so much!

But before I go, another one of those amusing lists:
1. Rachel and I made two “friends” at the carnival who we were pretty sure are pickpockets. Not that it mattered because literally, neither of us had any money at all on us. But we couldn’t seem to make them go away…they kept approaching us and only after we explained we were broke students and no we did not want to go to some dark corner of the festival to take a picture with them did they go away. The way we figured that it worked was that green shirt (attempting to flirt with Rachel) was the smooth talker who distracted people and yellow shirt (lurking silenty and awkwardly behind me) was the one who did the actual picking of the pockets.
2. Zach’s favorite new outfit makes him look so Jesus like that I think that may have just become his nickname for the rest of the trip.
3. I read a book called “Middlesex” that Peggy lent to me during the ride to Mombassa and really enjoyed it. If anyone has read it, I’d love to talk about it when I get back home.
4. I realized on the bus ride that I have both the german and the English version of 99 red ballons on my iPod. Yes, it is great for running, but the fact that I felt the need to download both…that seems a bit questionable to me!
5. My mosquito net in the current hotel is hung on the ceiling about three feet away from my actual bed, so it keeps blowing into my face and really only covers the top part of my body, but even though its hot I’m upholding my habit of sleeping under as many blankets as possible, so I think I’ll be just fine. I’m just glad this one isn’t smelly!
-Hill

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