September 16, 2009
“Henceforth, this account shall gather itself at an acceptable starting point (every beginning in narration is somewhat arbitrary and the one that follows is no exception), from which it shall then move forward in a so-called timely fashion, shunning the wantonly tangential influence of the natural mind and stopping only occasionally to smell the adjectives or kick some ass.”
~ “Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates” by Tom Robbins
The above quote is from an excellent book called “Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates” that Devin lent me yesterday morning and I have just finished reading because it was so good I have hardly been able to put it down. It is the story of Switters, an anarchist who works for the CIA, a computer genius who hates technology, who can’t decide if he is an “angel” or a “cowboy”, a man who admires innocence and yet manages to become infatuated (perhaps obsessed) with both his step sister and a nun and who has fierce, hypnotic green eyes and many adventures around the world. It was a hilarious, ridiculously witty and surpprisingly, ended up containing some well thought out serious ideas and philophies as well and I highly recommend it. (Especially to you, Renn!).
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spend the whole day reading, but rather had to attend class, which is rather terrfying as the final written Kiswahili exam is looming ahead on Friday morning and I’m afraid its going to devour me like a very hungry crocodile because the sheer amount of information that has been presented in the last couple of days is huge and I’m pretty sure that most of it is pouring out from my ears instead of lodging itself firmly between them.
But I managed to survive swahili class today somehow and history as well, even though I was quite distracted because all I could think about was how excited I am to be leaving for the coast this weekend! I did however, go for a run before class today and I intend to do the same tomorrow morning. I went all by myself because Alex was feeling sick and I was alone except for a young teenage boy practicing soccer drills in the field and an old toothless man in the apartments next door who yelled encouragement to me everytime I ran by, mostly the phrase “Kimbia, mzungu, kimbia!” (Run, white person, run – I totally felt like Forrest Gump, which in turn made me think of chocolates). It was nice because it got me out of the house and out of the way of the kids while they got ready for school and also prevented mama from kicking me out way early so that I wouldn’t be late for school. Sadly, breakfast is back to bread and margarine as the children and I have eaten all the peanut butter (and through a confusing string of events I now have only 100 shillings - ~7 $US – to my name).
After class, Rachel and I had planned to go to the Nakumat so that I could buy gifts for me host family and she (being smart enough to bring all her gifts from the US) could buy chocolate, but as it turned out almost everyone else from L+C wanted to go also, so all in all we took up almost an entire Citi Hoppa bus. Nakumat was as overwhelming as always, but I picked out: a nice knife and cutting board for baba whose favorite hobby is cooking, a fancy family picture frame for mama and I already have a pretty skirt for the house girl and candy and t-shirts for the children. I also bought the fixings for a spaghetti dinner and am going to attempt to cook dinner for my family tomorrow night…should be interesting!
All told, that took all of the money I had with me (with the exception of 100 shillings) and I went to the ATM to get more cash so that I will be able to purchase Islam appropriate clothing when we get to the coast and buy a few more phone minutes so I can keep trying to get in touch with my family for longer than thirty seconds at a time, but my transaction was denied. I know for a fact that I have more money in the bank than I withdrew last weekend, so I’m worried that my bank locked up the account because sometimes they do that if your card all of a sudden is used in Kenya (because of possible fraud or indentity theft) and I’m a little panicked because I still owe Heather 250 shillings from our crazy taxi ride last Friday night and told her I would pay her after going to the ATM today…oops. Also, I still have to buy vegetables for my dinner tomorrow night at the market and after I do that I probably won’t even have enough money left to take the bus to get to an ATM at all!
I am sitting on my bunk and the baby won’t stop crying. I have never thought that I ever want to have babies and sharing a room with one for two weeks has made me even more certain of this fact.
The bus rides to and from the Nakumat were once again interesting. On the first Citi Hoppa, Rachel sat between Natalie and I and one of her “friends” sat behind us and kept telling me I needed to move so that Rachel could move back and sit next to him. We all said “No” and then he started demanding that she give him money. It took Natalie telling him to get lost and leave Rachel alone for him to finally slink away.
Also, on the bus ride there, Kai was the only guy on the bus with a bunch of us girls. (And for those of you reading who don’t know Kai, you need to understand that he is upwards of 6 feet tall and a big and solidly built guy – he is the only mzungu that Africans seem to have respect for immediately and is the person you want nearby if you want some creepy guy to disappear immediately). Several men kept approaching Kai at the bus stop while we were waiting, pointing out one or two of us and wanting to know how many goats or cows he would take! One man even offered to trade him “a black wife for a white one”. Thankfully Kai continued to respectfully decline and did not attempt to sell any of us. I’m so glad that I don’t really live in a culture where my brother or dad can sell me away to a man simply because he’ll give them a lot of livestock.
On the way back, Jazz, Rachel, Kim and I ended up taking a smaller non Citi Hoppa bus and for a while weren’t sure we would make it back to Riruta at all as it took a crazy shortcut through a soccer field on the outskirts of the suburb and wound its way through a couple of backroads in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid traffic. Kim and I were standing for most of the ride, gripping onto the bar on the ceiling of the bus with one hand and holding our shopping bags in the other, while leaning against each other and trying not to fall over and land on anyone else in the very full bus. I’m not a big van of public transportation in Nairobi. You end up getting way too close to the people you are traveling with!
I made it back before dark, so mama didn’t have to worry and she is very excited about eating “chakula cha mzungu” (white people food) tommorrow night, so I hope it lives up to her expectations.
I’m really worried about my ATM situation and hope its resolved soon! I’d call my parents but don’t have enough money anymore to buy minutes and they haven’t figured out how to call me yet, I don’t think (though I keep trying to instruct them via e-mail or over voice mail messages – does anyone else have tips for making international phone calls work? Is there something important I’m not telling them?)
It should be time for me to go to sleep, but I’m really anxious about my ATM troubles, the Swahili test, a history reflection paper on our homestays due Sunday morning, seemingly unpreventable East Africa loss of physical fitness, the fact that something about my cell isn’t working/isn’t letting my family contact me, the dinner I’m supposed to cook tomorrow night and am itching like crazy from fleas and just a few mosquito bites.
I’m really having a good time, but the whole loss of control of my life aspect of this program is proving really, really difficult for me. At home, I’m pretty indepndent and spend more time with the dog and horses for company than I do other people and as a result am not used to having to do things on a really specific schedule as long as I get them done within a general time frame. If I wake up a bit before 6 am (and take away the time needed for showering, walking to school, etc.) then I have about an hour to myself then and then another 2 hours (usually less though, because Professor Sperling is often unbelievably long winded) after school before it gets dark and I have to be in the house, to do what I want to. 3 hours a day of non-structured time is not nearly enough, as much of my studying has to be accomplished during those hours as well and it all has to happen in the prescence of other people.
I miss having the opportunity to be alone so much that it is absurd. I LOVE spending an hour or two alone every day if I can and the longest I’ve spent alone since coming to East Africa is about 15 minutes (if even that) in the bathroom taking a shower. And even then the TV and conversation can still be heard the whole time.
I recognise that this is just a really big cultural difference and that I am probably abnormally introverted and way too much of a loner even for an American, but I don’t think that my preferences in this matter will end up changing during my time here. Kenyans just really like to be together all the time. My host mama was at first worried I was angry at them when I would take my more difficult homework and sit on my bed to do it rather than sit in front of the TV with everyone (and was very relieved when I explained that I just was’t used to studying in front of the TV and thought it was distracting).
Dreams of being alone have replaced dreams of peanut butter now that my protein craving has been satisfied. As well as learning a lot about Africa, I guess I’m learning a lot about myself too!