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.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

“White man! White boy! White girl! White Lady!”

“White man! White boy! White girl! White Lady!”

September 13, 2009

Writing this in my journal first again so that I can be pretending to at least somewhat watch Tusker Project Fame season 3 with jamaa yangu (my family).

My day started off with peanut butter (yay!) and a morning run with Alex. We are finally getting used to both the altitude and smog and made it an entire ½ an hour with no water breaks. I know that sounds pathetic, but running/breathing here is quite difficult. Alex and Laila are both more experienced and stronger runners than I am and they think so too.

I went home expecting to “shower” and then go to church, but my family decided not to go in favor of staying home to watch Big Brother: Africa on the TV and be lazy. Seriously, other than getting up to quickly prepare and fix a plate for meals, no one else besides me and Anti, the hard working house girl got up off the couch and away from the TV until 4pm. I am so glad my 2 weeks of constant TV will be over soon!

We watched the horrible American movie “Mad Money” about a group of women janitors who conspire to steal money from the US federal reserve bank and I was thoroughly disgusted by the sort of crap that my country exports for others to see and believe is representative of our culture.

Eventually the family got off of the couch and Mama and Baba and I took the bus (a Citi Hoppa) into Nairobi and went to the Masaai market. With mama’s help, I selected some jewelry to wear this Saturday and also a beautiful birthday present for my mom (though I am not sure if I will be able to mail it to her or if she will have to wait until Christmas to get it). I had a lot of fun, but I think mama is a little disappointed that I am nor more girly and didn’t got on a total shopping spree. Again, I’ll post pictures as soon as I can dig the cord to connect my camera to my computer out of my big backpack at the Clifton’s house so you can see all of the pretty jewelry.

The market place was pretty crazy. Many, many Masaai had their wares spread out over what was essentially an empty parking lot. They were selling everything from traditional spears and shields to jewelry of every type to kangas to plaid man blankets (not sure of the official name for these, though I am really coveting one of these more than any jewelry) to beaded sandals and wallets to carvings of safari animals to incredible hand woven scarves. There were even a few vendors selling T-shirts and regular shoes.

The atmosphere was overwhelming. Every where I looked there was someone begging me to “Please, sister, come just take a look at my wares, I will give you them for just a cheap price.” And all of the male sellers were of course telling me that I was beautiful and gorgeous and stunning in attempt to convince me to purchase their crafts.

Next we hopped on a matatu to head to the part of Nairobi city that baba described as being like “our version of the Bronx without the ‘the projects’.” When I pointed out to him that Nairobi had the Kibera slums instead, he literally had no response.

We wandered for a bit and they pointed out to me the Indian and Asian shops and told me that everything there was really cheap but I should not expect it to last for more than a week!

Then they took me on another matatu to the Westlands and Kenya’s largest shopping mall and indeed I did see more wazungu than usual. Sitik, the shopping mall is described as being “a city within a city” and it really is. The store that I found the most amusing was “Secrets” a total rip off of Victoria’s Secret that sells women’s lingerie.

We went to the food court and despite my perhaps too subtle hints that I would like to go to the Indian place or the yogurt/salad/sandwich/smoothie bar, we ended up at Whimpy’s Hamburgers. I ended up with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and managed to talk my way out of having to drink another Tusker and had a mango juice instead. My host parents were very surprised that I did not order fries and a coke, because that is what they thought an American would do!

After that we began the long process of taking a string of buses and matatus back to Riruta. We are in the house now and they just tired to feed me again, after breakfast, lunch and Whimpy’s! But luckily everyone is so distracted by project Fame that I just had salad and tried a bite of the rice dish that Baba made. Which is a shame because it was delicious and I wish I was hungry.

I have something kind of serious that I want to talk about, but before that, a list of fun stuff.
1. Seen on a store front: “Traditional Furniture Store – Your source for beds, chairs, tables and coffins.”
2. I rode in the “Boobie Boyz” matatu today. I sat in the front seat with mama Susan, which all my lonely planet guides assure me is the most dangerous place in the entire matatu. Considering this fact and that the driver was speeding, swerving into the wrong lane to avoid traffic and generally paying more attention to the Beyonce music videos playing on a small screen in front of mama and I, I feel luck to still be alive. I don’t think my knuckles have ever been so white (from clutching the seat through the turns.)
3. See on T-shirts for sale at the market:
O – Originally
B – Born
A – African
M – Managing
A – Americans
Which makes absolutely no sense.
4. Also at the market, T-shirts w/ marijuana leaves and then the saying “Lights up you life”. I wanted to buy one for my little brother but they didn’t have any in his tall but skinny size.
5. In trying to convince me to board his matatu, one of the drivers became confused or forgot some of his english and began yelling at me “White man! White boy! White girl! White lady! White person!” in the hopes that one of them would be correct and get my attention.

The somewhat more serious point that I wanted to bring up is how uncomfortable I am with much of the male attention that I receive here. I know that when these guys see me (or any of the L+C girls) all many of them see is an American green card.

(Now before I go on, let me state for the record that the vast majority of men that I have met here have been nice, helpful, friendly and willing to allow me to attempt to converse with them in my very broken Swahili, but there have been enough creeps for me to generalize about that particular sub-species a little bit.)

I’ve never had a guy genuinely tell me that I’m cute or pretty or gorgeous or attractive, so to have someone say it who so clearly doesn’t mean it just gives me the creeps. I also really hate it when they ask me if I am married before even asking my name.

I’ve taken to telling them that yes, I am very happily married, my name is Sara and that my husband has already paid my father quite a lot in exchange for me. Also, when asked where I live, I point them in exactly the opposite direction of where my host family does live.

Mostly, I’m just irritated and slightly sickened by these encounters, but there is occasionally one that scares me a little. If someone is really persistant and insists on staying with me even if I speed up to avoid them, I start to feel uncomfortable. If speeding up doesn’t work, I explain that I would prefer to walk alone on my way to meet my friends. If that doesn’t work, usually saying “Enda!” (“Go away!”) sternly and then even kind of growling “Potea!” (literally, “Get lost!” works out for me in most cases. Though the other day I did this and the guy just dropped behind me by about five feet and proceeded to follow behind me and even though I crossed the street a couple of times he hakupotea (did not get lost) until I met up with some of the L+C guys.

I don’t think that I’m being ridiculously paranoid as I am genuinely enjoying the majority of my interactions with folks here as long as they don’t begin by praising my great and non-existent beauty. Seriously, every creepy conversation has started exactly in that manner and not a single non-creepy conversation has. But I also don’t think that I’ll ever feel comfortable as a female mzungu in Nairobi.

6. A few more things for my list – normally kids on the bus like to play with my hair when they are sitting behind me. I don’t really like this, but usually just tolerate it and pretend not to notice, because they are young and just very curious. But today, a kid sitting behind me (around 7 years old, I think) was kind of grabbing at my hair and then all of a sudden gripped a huge chunk, wrapped it around his fingers and ripped it straight out of my scalp! It was all I could do not to yelp and leap out of my seat I was so startled!
7. Mama was asking me about my hair today and was really disappointed to learn that I currently use no other product than shampoo and my little blonde highlights come from the summer sun and not a bottle. She was really hoping to learn more about how white women do their hair and I was absolutely useless when it came to answering her questions as I never do anything other than wash, brush, put in a ponytail or braid with mine. She is trying to convince me to stop pulling it back or covering it with a bandana because she thinks that it is pretty. I told her that my own mother has been fighting that battle for years no with no success!
8. In general mama Susan thinks that I should be more like my mom/follow her instructions (or at least what she has heard of her from me) in that I should: wear my hair down, put on jewelry more often, enjoy romantic comedies more and date! She thinks my mom is a very smart and stylish lady!

And lastly, before I go, I have one more slightly more serious concern. I know that a couple of you reading this are involved in human or animal medicine and may have had experience with something the Lance-lab and I never have – fleas.

The itching from my flea bites on essentially my whole body is driving me slowly but surely crazy and I’m worried it will continue after my homestay is over this week. Will they continue to live in my clothing/hair even after I leave Riruta? And if so, what is the best way to kill them?

So far all I’ve seen in the store is a dog shampoo (SUPER expensive, only a really rich person in Kenya would waste money on something as stupid as ridding a dog of fleas) – would that be safe for me to use on myself and my clothes? Or is there a good home remedy for this?

If anyone has any ideas I would really appreciate them! I know I’m being a total wimp about this, but they are so itchy that I keep unconciously itching them until they bleed and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been warned against having even the tiniest open wound while in Africa if I can help it.

Please e-mail me or leave a comment with any tips! Thanks so much!
PS And yes, when I get home, everyone can make fun of me as much as they want for being flea infested as I realize how comically this must read.
PPS And no, it has nothing to do with cleanliness! I “shower” daily and am quite fastidious. Fleas are just a fact of life here.

1 comment:

  1. On the matter of fleas (the insect kind); yes they will stay with you although one you get to a non-flea area they might lower in population. A way to get rid of them on you is to take an actual bath in really hot water, like just below as hot as you can stand it and leave your shampoo in until you get out (and wash with usual soap). while you hair is still wet you either need a ridiculously fine tooth comb or you might be able to find a flea comb at a store and carefully brush from your head to the tip of the hair, and if any fleas are found on the comb put them in a bowl of hot water. (do this as often as possible) As far as clothes go I don't actually know, but I imagine washing in really hot water might do the trick.

    On the matter of fleas (the man kind); I'm sorry they're just as persistent.