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

Tumekwenda shamba wa jamaawangu.

Tumekwenda shamba wa jamaawangu.
We went to my family's homestead/garden.

September 6, 2009

I’ve just spent a whole day with my host family and I’m even more homesick than I would have thought possible. I literally have been struggling not to cry for the entire day. Last night I slept in the top bunk of a bunk bed – me on top, Alicia + Daryll on the bottom and Mungai the baby in crib pretty much right underneath my ladder. The bunk is pretty rickety and I’m honestly very glad that I don’t weigh a pound more than I do as otherwise I feel like I might break it! In fact, I am sitting on said bunk right now writing in my journal and am afraid to move a muscle.

I slept terribly last night – snoring kids, babbing baby, barking dogs, honking matatus and just the rush and roar of city life. I am definitely not used to it yet!

This morning I woke up for a chai and a piece of brown bread before taking a “shower” in order to freshen up before church. Taking a shower here is very different than doing so at home. My host family has a small “choo”, a room that has a concrete floor, a drain, a sink, a western style toliet and a showerhead, but there is currently no running water in this part of the city right now. Using the toliet is done as normal, but afterwards you must pour water from a bucket into the toliet bowl in order to carry away the waste. Showering is done using a bucket of water warmed over the fire, a pitcher and a washcloth. I am sure glad that I cut off so much hair before leaving, but wish that I had taken off even more for ease of washing. As it is, I am not sure if I should wash it every day or not (it might use too much water and water here is expensive) so it is a good thing that I brought so many bandanas (8! I kept thinking I forgot to pack them and kept adding more) to cover my hair up with.

Church was the same as everything else in Kenya – long, slow and ridiculously drawn out, though it did contain a good deal more clapping, swaying and ululating shrieking than a typical US service. For once I was actually glad of my catholic school upbringing because even though the service was in Kiswahili I managed to fake my way through it and kneel, stand, sit and make the sign of the cross at the appropriate times!

I ran into Meryl before the service began and we braved a visit to the church “choo” (literally a raised enclosed platform with a concrete floor with a hole in the middle) before the mass began.

She looked and seemed a lot more comfortable and at home than I felt! I was very impressed by her. She is very lucky because she and Laila are “cousins” and live directly next door to one another. I have yet to find any L+C neighbors.

Today after church (and a strange bus ride home in which a man was screaming really fast in Kiswahili and chasing the bus while pounding on the side of it), “Uncle George” came to pick us up to go visit some relatives who live in a smaller village.

Uncle George is still giving me the creeps a little bit. He is a little too touchy-feely for my taste (and really if he has to get my attention can’t he grab my shoulder and not my thigh?) and his jokes about “making babies” and other related activites as well as his ability to always end up smashed next to me with an arm around me whenever close quarters are required is a bit unsettling and uncomfortable for me. But I don’t know how much of it truly is culturally acceptable (and I just need to get over) and how much of it I should really be bothered by. I do answer all of his jokes with very serious, non jesting negative answers, so hopefully he will get the point soon!

We drove all the way to Kirambu to visit one of Susan’s (mamawangu’s) brothers at his shamba (farm/garden/homestead). We had to stop on the way for gas and chocolate cake (they were most upset when I took only a couple of bites worth, but my doxy-ed stomach just couldn’t take anymore).

When we arrived, I realized that it wasn’t just any old family gatherin, but a huge event of some sort or another. As it turned out, it was not actually Susan’s brother’s shamba but actually the shamba of Susan’s brother’s (Uncle George’s twin!) wife’s father. They were having a party because it was the first birthday of one of the shamba owner’s grandsons, a cute little boy with big brown eyes, an orange sweatshirt and a large appetite for cake whose name was Victor.

I probably made them all think that Americans are standoffish snobs – I was trying really hard to be outgoing, but I was reminded so much of similar Marshall family gatherings that I was blinking back tears for the most of the afternoon even as I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

Uncle George and some of the tiny cousins showed me around the shamba, pointing out the cows in their pen, the two types of banana trees (one for eating, one for decoration) planted in large holes with cow dung placed at the bottom in order to better retain water and provide nutrients, the scruffy dogs who hang about and the neighbors’ children who yelled “mzungu, mzungu” at me and cried “Howareyou? Howareyou? Howareyou?” enthusiastically and then ran away giggling when I replied, probably off to tell their friends they had been brave enough to speak to a white person!

Somewhere along the way the walk became just Uncle George and I going for a stroll, not something I was entirely comfortable with, but I am so desperate for any sort of exercise that I was willing to go with it. He seemed to want to prove his manliness and kept asking if I was getting tired. I explained that no, I wasn’t that at home I am a runner an dtold him that I did a half marathon this July.

Well, he said, I bet you didn’t do it that fast and took off jogging up the next big hill. I did too, my loosely tied hiking boots almost falling off, but as it was, I think I almost killed Uncle George as he came to a dead stop less than halfway up the hill sweating profusely and breathing heavily. I hadn’t even broken a sweat and was still speaking normally. I liked exhausted Uncle George a lot better – it was much easier for me to keep what I felt was an acceptable distance without him trying to close the gap.

I think I need to casually mention that I have a serious boyfriend at home next time he is around. If any of my wonderful male friends are reading this and want to volunteer for the post of being my psuedo boyfriend I would really appreciate it. I feel I’ll get caught in a lie much more easily if I make up an entirely fictuous person, but even as far away as Africa I don’t feel comfortable claiming to be dating someone unless they are down with that little fib as well. So any guys out there want to be my “protect me from African propositions boyfriend”? Rachel has the smartest thing going on – her boyfriend gave her a ring which she normally wears on a chain around her neck, but he told her that she can wear it on whichever finger necessary depending on the situation. How awesome and helpful is that?

I talked to many of Susan’s extended family today. They were all warm and welcoming, though many were at first shocked that I was not the same girl as last year. One mzungu is the same as any other, I guess. The shamba owner, Biden, was a very interesting man. He worked for the US Embassy coordinating the Peace Corps Volunteers in Kenya under the presidencies of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan and Bush sr. He was telling me how many of the women cried when their term of service in Kenya was over and they had to return to the US and sad he thinks I might do the same!

Is was very cool to hear the traditional birhtday blessing and song performed in the Kikuyu mother tounge by Victor’s family. I helped in singing Happy Birthday in english when it was time (although they added another verse: “Happy birthday to you, we went to a zoo, we saw a black monkey and we thought it was you!”) And I was so flattered and humbled when Victor’s father performed part of his blessing in english so that “Heel” would understand. The Kikuyu are all havin a hard time with “Hillary” and if they can say it, it automatically comes out “Hillary Clinton” so I’ve just been telling them all that “Hill” is just fine.

The shamba was beautiful, as was the walk I went on with Uncle George. I missed my mom SO much at that point because I wish that she was there to see it and walk it with me.

On the way home from the shamba we stopped at the apartments where George’s twin and his wife and daughter live. Susan professed them to be very “posh” and indeed they were, though still no functional plumbing.

Unfortunately, when they were showing us all their very nice and recently refurnished bedroom, Uncle George had to direct more “making babies” jokes at me which somewhat spoiled the experience for me. On the way home we stopped and visited Susan’s mother in law who lives in a really ig house with fancy couches and a large mahogany table (all kept spotless by a lack of children and an overworked house girl) that is right behind our house.

Finally we went home and I am sitting on the bunk now. My mama is the sweetest person ever. At the party, for politeness’s sake, I had to choke down a chapati, some rice and pick veggies out of a cow? Goat? (bye, bye vegetarianism…this thought bothers me way less here than at home because things are so different. No way would I be maybe eating meat at home) stew. My stomach continues to be unhappy about being in Kenya. Anyways, my mama just came in bringing me apples and bananas slices with a glass of juice saying that she understands that I am not used to rich Kikuyu food and she will try to feed me mostly fruits and vegetables. Is it weird that her being so sweet and kind almost makes me more homesick for my own mom? Maybe I can borrow the phone for one more call home.

But before I go, a few last funny Kenyan things for all of you that have made it this far in the blog reading:
1. Seen on a market sign “Buy honey – cures cancer of the throat and cervix”
2. On a matatu (small bus/large van) – “If you get too hot stay our of our kitchen”
3. On another matatu – A huge painting of Shakira
4. My little sister’s shirt today had a huge picture of Zach Efron’s face on it. High School Musical really is taking over the world! Run and hide while you can!
5. On a sign nailed to a tree, advertising the services of a “TRADIDIONAL DOKTOR” – selling love potions and syrups for “make business prosper”
6. The Kikuyu think I am kidding when I try to explain that you can use horse manure for fertilizer just like you can use cow manure.
7. Mama told me sadly at church today “In your skirt and sweater and jacket you looked at least a little big, but just in the pants and shirt you look tiny!”
8. I didn’t know I’d get to go on a long walk today so I wasn’t wearing sunscreen… I guess we will find out if the doxy made me sun sensitive or not!

Miss and love you all,

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