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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Puppies, Pepos and Other Such Nonsense.

Puppies, Pepos and Other Such Nonsense.
September 14, 2009

Sitting on my bunk bed pretending to write an essay so that I can avoid being in the main room in front of the TV. They watch so much TV here that I just want to run away and hide from it! The volume is always up so high you can feel the vibrations through the furniture and you have to raise your voice just to speak to the person sitting on the couch next to you.

And it is literally always on. The first person awake turns it on and it doesn’t go off until the last person goes to bed. I’m not really sure why TV is such a big part of life, but I really dislike it.

The idea of a family dinner is a foreign concept because even if everyone eats at the same time (which is pretty rare), they are all doing it while staring at the screen. Normally I sit at the table because there isn’t really enough room on the couch for everyone and their plate, but today I sat right in front of the TV like everyone else and ended up eating about 2 or 3 times as much as I normally would because I was so distracted I didn’t even realize when I was full. Now I feel super gross and it is all the fault of the TV (well, I mean, really its my fault as I could have tried to avoid it a little better).

I got my first Kiswahili exam back today. It was a mid-test that was worth 20% of my final grade. I got a 90% so I was quite happy about that as I wasn’t sure exactly how it had gone. We have our final written test this upcoming Friday and I am much more nervous about this one as it will cover two things I find really difficult on it – Swahili numbers and giving commands.

I also got back my first reflection essay I turned in for the history/culture course. We had to write about a major difference we noticed between the US and Kenya so far and then draw some conclusion about it. I ended up writing about my host mama here and comparing her role in the family with the role of my mother in my family at home. I got an A- (which Professor Sperling says means its missing just a little bit more analysis) and he mentioned the comparison I made during today’s class, so I was able to secretly feel quite proud about that.

In other news, I purchased the largest, most delicious avocado I have ever eaten in my life for 5 Ksh (~ 3.7 cents US $) and ate it for lunch. It is too bad guacomole is unknown in East Africa as they could make some truly fabulous guac here! Maybe I will have to make it for my family some night before I leave.

In shule (school) today, the most interesting thing we discussed was in history. Professor Sperling was talking about how Islam fits more easily in with the preexisting traditional African beliefs than Christianity (though currently most of the inland population of Kenya is Christian with Islam existing mainly on the coast).

The reasons for this are: Islam allows polygamy which fits with traditional beliefs and also Muslims believe in non-human spirits, the genie (English)/jinn (Arabic)/jini (Swahili) in addition to angels and humans.

This fits with the idea of the traditional East African “pepo” (pronounced “Pep – oh”). Pepo is a bantu word for a native spirit that resides someplace cool and calm, like a river, a cave, under the shade of a particular tree, etc. Each village and regions has its own pepos and the people who live there know of their area’s pepos and recognize them accordingly by leaving them offerings as they determine necessary. Pepos aren’t seen as being necessarily benevolent or malevolent, but instead are rather impulsive, erratic and fickle and can sometimes become an irritant by invading people or their houses in which case ceremonies to exorcise the pepo or drive it from a home are necessary. These ceremonies always involve large amounts of noise because pepos don’t like too much commotion!

I find the idea of pepos absolutely fascinating, so don’t be surprised if a short story involving one works its way into the blog at some point. Also, I think it would be a fabulous name for a dog or cat, so some poor pet in my future who has a michevious personality may find itself dubbed “Pepo”.

I didn’t go running today as Alex forgot we were supposed to meet and I didn’t feel comfortable going alone. The soccer field is offset from the main road and as an L+C group we’ve kind of mutually agreed that no one should hang out there alone for too long. But hopefully tomorrow I will make it out for a run of a good length. I can already feel the East Africa pounds packing on and though I haven’t been near a mirror to really see it happening, its really not about appearances for me, but rather that I just don’t like the way I feel with extra weight – I end up feeling it as more pain in already not so great joints when doing the running and riding I so love, so I will have to really work harder at finding ways to eat healthier and exercise more at my next homestay (which should be easier as it will be in a rural area and not a big city).

Tomorrow the L+C group is having a shortened Swahili session and then is going on an all day field trip to the Natural Museum in Nairobi (I assume this must have at least something biology/animal related and will hopefully be interesting to me) and the science section of Nairobi University to meet with a friend of Professor Clifton’s and some students of his. I am very excited about this.

Today while I was walking to shule I had a lot of extra time (mama still has not realized that it takes me five and not forty five minutes to walk to school) and I did a very mzungu like thing and stopped to watch the goat kids playing along the side of the road. They were playfighting very intensely, testing out their tiny little buds of horns and headbutting for all they worth. At one point, one of them sent a smaller one tumbling a couple of feet into the gutter/sewer where he sat bleating and feeling sorry for himself covered in refuse until he managed to scramble out.

I also watched a really scruffy tan puppy playing with a beautiful grown up dog who is rather wolfish in build with a shiny foxy red coat with black points and a wise, crafty look in her eyes who seems to rule the alleyway in front of Le Pic school. I have never once made that part of my journey without running across her and she is clearly the master of her domain. She is not aggressive or territorial, but seems to view the world with a very unconcerned air as if she is secure in her position as queen. But even she was taking some time off from her royal duties to play with the new young whippersnapper, allowing him to snap at her muzzle and tail playfully before she would set him on his rump, knock him over with a paw and gently cover his muzzle with her own before bowing and inviting him to play again, entertaining him while at the same time reinforcing her position as the boss!

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of that is that sometimes I forget that animal behavior is everywhere (even among the humans I’m currently living with, though for some reason, behavior of human animals fails to hold the same fascination for me) and that I don’t need to wait until I’m on safari to see some animals interacting with each other and their environment. After all, will a mzungu watching a couple of dogs really draw that much more attention than a mzungu taking a walk? Probably not!

As an aside, I think it would be a really neat experiment to have a group of various breeds of domestic dogs and allow them to interact naturally as a pack and see how many generations it took to produce an animal that looked and behaved more like a coyote/wolf. Kind of like a reversal of the silver fox experiments in Russia where silver foxes have been selected for many generations based only on how receptive they are to human contact and as a result have developed many strange traits like a spotted coat pattern that would get them killed quickly in the wild, the retention of baby characteristics like floppy ears, blunt muzzles and big eyes, a more “bark” like voice than a wild fox and a positive reaction to human company and touch. Obviously there would be many ethical problems with such an experiment, like the fact that there are already way too many dogs in the world who don’t have homes to create more just on a scientific whim, and no one would finance such an odd and seemingly useless endeavor, but I feel it is an interesting question nonetheless.

(I just crushed a particularly large flea on my wrist…ew! I guess that is what I get for trying to subject my blog readers to a painful attempt at being somewhat smart and science-y.)

And of course, I’m still missing the world’s best lab like crazy and can’t wait to have him as my running buddy again! I wish he could be here. After all, a mzungu running down the road with a large black dog in tow would probably be just an odd enough sight that people would totally keep their distance as most larger, well fed dogs in this part of Kenya seem to be employed as guard dogs. It would be like traveling with a body guard!


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