Thursday, October 28, 2010

Light bulb

I had one of those “ah hah!” moments today when I was walking home from school. I realized why so many Kenyans respond to greetings with a grunt or other guttural indecipherable noise (ok, maybe this theory only applies to me, but bear with me) but I think it may be because they’re too fucking tired to do much else. Let me explain. After a day of carrying buckets of water on your head, washing dishes by hand, scrubbing clothes (again by hand), starting fires to cook meals for your 10+ kids, picking vegetables to eat, tending to your livestock and garden, and then carrying more water to repeat all that dish washing and cooking for dinner, you’d be pretty tired too, right?
While I don’t nearly work that hard (my mom tells me I have princess wrists- too fragile to do “real” work) I still exert way more energy than I have ever before. With my daily 45 minute walk to and from school and 12 hour teaching days six days a week, I’m completely exhausted by the end of the day. Today was especially tiresome as I walked the hour and a half to the post office to check for mail (false alarm, your package hasn’t arrived yet, mom!) and on the way back the blazing heat and hilly terrain gave my (gasp in horror) Kilimanjaro flashbacks (ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, the walk isn’t THAT bad). In addition, I ran around like a crazy person searching for some place to print my exams, but alas, the stima (electricity) was out everywhere in Paw Akuche and in Miranga there was only enough electricity for a television, but of course, not enough to power a printer (wtf?). Anyways, after my intense climb back to school and then back to my house, all I could muster back to my friendly neighbour was raising a few eyebrow hairs in response to his “good evening.” I hope he noticed my effort. So that’s when my lightbulb went off, maybe (maybe just maybe), that’s why there are so many nods, “mmmm”, and “aaaaah” in response to questions and comments here, there just isn’t enough energy left to say much else.
The reason this theory definitely applies to me is because I swear I am way peppier in the morning and will muster enough energy (even at 5:45am!) to respond to your “good morning” (maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll respond in dholuo AND Kiswahili) but by the end of the day you can expect a much less enthusiastic response (maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll respond with a half nod or pathetic wave). As I sit here, writing down this world shaking theory of mine, debating whether to move my biweekly bucket bath schedule so that I can rinse the Kilimanjaro climb’s dust and sweat off of me, I request of you that if we are to meet in the future, please acknowledge my ¼ of an inch eyebrow raise as a legitimate greeting (at least if it’s in the evening hours).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Turning Kenyan?

Lately I’ve been noticing some strange changes in me, most likely due to the fact that I’ve been in Kenya for almost a year now. (Wow, I cannot believe it’s been a year!) For instance, my Kenyan voice (which my brother described to me as sounding like I have a British accent, minus the British part) is beginning to pervade ALL my conversations, not just my conversations with Kenyans. And I catch myself making very Kenyan comments like saying “Nice time” when a year ago I would have said something like “have a good day.” And the ultimate Kenyan thing that I unfortunately hear myself saying all the time is responding “I’m fine” before someone even greets me!
I remember a year ago, when I first arrived here, smirking to myself about these language oddities. Who replies to a greeting when nothing has even been said???? And, to top it off, certain occurrences hardly phase me such as seeing a goat being transported on the back of a bicycle or livestock being walked on leashes like pet puppies. When I first arrived, I remember balking at a matatu completely covered in chickens. Now that I’ve seen it a few times, it really is nothing surprising (definitely not camera worthy, like it used to be).
Whether my turning Kenyan is a positive or negative thing, I cannot say. However, it makes me wonder if when I go back, I’ll stare at things that seem so common and everyday to you. Like a supermarket aisle or a Starbucks menu or seeing running water in every household. Will living in America make me yearn for what I’ve become so accustomed to here? Will I miss my daily sighting of bicycle transported animals or cows accompanying meon my walk to school everyday? While time will only tell about my eventual transition back to the states, I hope that you won’t think I’m too strange if you catch me gazing in wonderment at the fifty different brands of soap or taking 20 minutes deciding what coffee I want to order. And don’t think I’m too strange if I talk to you in an accent that sounds British, minus the British part. I know that I have a long time to wonder about these things, but taking into account how fast this year has already gone by, I know this next year will pass much too quickly. While I can promise you that I won’t come back with the skin colour of a Kenyan (like my students initially predicted would occur over the course of my stay here), I can’t promise you that I’ll come back as the same Jenny that you remember. Blame it on Kenya :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

3 Parks in 3 Days

The adventures of Caitlin and Jenny continued with some exciting, but hectic, traveling to Kakamega National Rainforest, Lake Nakuru National Park, and Hell’s Gate National Park all in the weekend before Caitlin was to return back to America.

Caitlin experienced her first Kenyan matatu (van) ride which can only be described with some vivid mental images….Imagine a van meant to hold 12 people, meaning there are 12 seats. However, in Kenya, seats don’t determine the number of passengers. In our matatu ride there were 24 people riding in our van including a few men hanging out of the door, four or more people per row, plus chickens, giant bags of food, mattresses, water tanks, etc. tied to the roof. It is quite an experience to travel by matatu. And while Caitlin was not fond of the smell, there are definitely some adventures that occur while on a matatu whether it be 80’s flashback music, a dancing baby, and an entertaining/drunk seat sharer, etc.

Our fist stop was to Kakamega National Rainforest, the only rainforest in all of Kenya. While it used to be home to gorillas and all sorts of other wildlife, development has reduced it to the habitat of Kenya’s most spectacular bird population. This is a bird watchers paradise with beautiful greenery and birds chirping everywhere. There are also tons of monkeys swinging from tree to tree, tree shaded trails, and a wealth of medical knowledge that we learned about from our Luhya guide.

We stayed in traditional mud bandas (huts) at the Udo campsite. While rustic from the outside, the bandas were quite comfortable inside. Although, we were a wee bit terrified to venture out of our hut at night to use the choo and thus constructed an in-door bathroom consisting of a bucket behind a chair.

Our next destination, after another jampacked matatu ride, was to Nakuru town. Nakuru is Kenya’s largest town and has a lovely laid back atmosphere and quaint restaurants. Caitlin tried her first plate of Ethiopian food here. We entered Lake Nakuru National Park for evening and morning game drives and were thrilled to see a plethora of animals running around everywhere (there were baboons and monkeys jumping on cars). We were able to spot black and white rhinos, a ton of flamingos nestled in the lake itself, Rothschild giraffes, baby baboons, lionesses and their cubs, zebras and many species of birds. While unassuming from the park’s gates, this national park was truly something else. The sheer number of wildlife wandering left and right make it a safari dream come true.

Our last stop on our few day adventure was to Hell’s Gate National Park located outside of Naivasha. This park is unique because it is one of the few parks that allows visitors to walk or bike through it. While it is not the same as being a few feet away from a lion behind the protection of a car frame, wandering through a park in the company of giraffes and zebras is just as fun. We rented bikes (and after relearning how to ride a bike) we headed into the park. We only had a few hours in the park due to Caitlin’s impending departure so we choose a short route to the Obsidian Caves. Along the way we biked through herds of zebras, grazing giraffes and warthogs. The end destination was a few caves composed of layered obsidian rock. While Caitlin’s view of biking adventures was scarred due to a sore derriere, I enjoyed the park greatly. While the animals may not have been as spectacular nor scary (who would want to see a lion while biking?) it was still fun to be biking next to all sorts of wildlife. I hope to go back again soon and explore some more!

Even though a tearful goodbye to Caitlin ensued after our amazing adventures, I still thoroughly enjoyed all of our travels together. It was her first time to Africa and hopefully not last. To all of you who have yet to explore this fascinating continent, karibu!