Sunday, May 27, 2012

Working Out

This post was written last Thursday (on May 24). As you read, imagine that it is a few days ago. The mistakes you've made in the past few days haven't happened yet, and you can prevent them from happening because it is no longer today.

Because I’m working out and working out, things are working out. Let me clarify:
My house has gone on an exercise bender. We have two main things: our pushups; our running.
We started the pushups not too long after arriving. Our coordinator, Jess, wanted to make it a house thing where we all exercise together. I’m a big fan of the idea, especially because it meant that my exercising in the living room (the only place where there is space to work out) would be legitimated by a household norm. At the start, the others (except Dave, who steadfastly refuses to exercise until he returns to Canada) were doing the pushups and other weight exercises too, but by now it’s just Jess and I doing them. Our goal is to increase by 5 the amount of pushups we each can do in one set. I started off around May 16 with 30 and by today (May 24) have already gone up to 37. As I would say, “That shit cray.” It’s not like I’m eating ridiculous amounts of protein either. But protein is overrated anyway. People have survived for millennia without eating as much protein as Canadians tend to eat.
Anywho, my goal for June 1 is to be able to do 40 pushups in one set. I’m not doing any special training to get up there, Imma just do pushups at the appointed time and hope that the stars align to let me do 40.
Every couple of days, we wake up early to run. Our intention is always to get up at 6:00, so I set my alarm for 5:55, throw on some exercise clothes and wait in the living room for my teammates. I’m always disappointed to find that no one else has emerged by 6:20. We end up beginning our runs after 6:30, which is not good because by that point the traffic has built up. In Canada, this would not be a big problem, but where we are it is a rather big problem because our choice of running terrain is that between tarmac frequented by motorised traffic and bumpy, narrow and muddy paths beside the road. When a vehicle comes our way, we need to dodge either by moving to the other side of the road or, as I prefer to do, jump onto the uneven dirt and hope to not sprain my ankle. Our area is very hilly too, which means that at any given moment we either have too much momentum or are struggling to move forward.
Yesterday I woke up at the appointed time, like usual, and ended up waiting until 6:30. So I told myself “Screw waiting. Imma go run myself.” The others shouldn’t hold me back. Best run ever – I practically made it to Chavakali, the road to which is essentially one big fat uphill, and down the hill back. Tomorrow I’m going to push even further – Imma run all the way to CHAVAMAST, a really cool community-based organisation that I got into contact with totally by chance.
Here’s where I get into another sense of working out. My first encounter with CHAVAMAST was totally unexpected, yet it has led to a relationship that will probably make my work much more fulfilling than it would have been without it. Last Monday, after completing an interview, I took a matatu to Chavakali for a SID meeting at 1:30. My interview and the subsequent dumping of the contents of my short-term memory into a notebook ended at around 12:00, and I arrived in Chavakali just before 12:30. So I had an hour to kill. I thought I might walk from one end of town to another to look for a hotel (which, in Kenya, is a restaurant, not necessarily a place with a bed) to chill in. Imagine me, a muzungu in a bright pink shirt, pleated pants and leather shoes, sauntering through a one-road town in Kenya. That’s right, you were probably thinking of a thumb so sore it stuck out all the way to outer space. But that actually served me really well because, having gone through the whole town and not really found any establishment I felt like entering, I just sat on one of a series of concrete parking blocks arranged on the side of the road. I casually took out my phone and checked my email (hooray for Android!). After a few minutes of idling on my phone, I heard some shouts of “Hello! How are you?” I had heard these words before, and they generally led to nowhere except a “I’m fine. And you?” But they were coming from the office of CHAVAMAST about which I had thought “I should get in contact with these guys about my research one day” when I saw their motto of “Community empowerment, accountability and governance” in capital letters above the entryway to their office.
I had time to kill, so I wiped off my dusty bum and walked into their office. I had really come to the right place, because it turns out that they do social audits of the LATF, one of the two devolved funds that I am studying! We talked for a long while about the LATF and Kenya, and I got the contact information of a few people in the office along with some concrete information about the LATF in Sabatia (which is very hard to come by). More importantly, I felt like the seeds of a relationship were there.
So I’m working out in the sense that I’m not working in the house on my computer – I’m going out, meeting people and getting my work out there. I never thought of myself as a networker or as a go-getter but those are things that you need to be to do social-science research successfully. And being those things is ever so satisfying. One thing that I’ve come to realise is that people are really willing to help if you only ask them. So Imma continue to be out of the house and talking to people. I just feel so...productive when I’m out and about. After all, I wasn’t sent to Kenya to sit in my house.
So that’s been a slice of my life and what I’ve thought about it. I’m excited to see how my research unfolds! Oh, last night we saw a newborn calf stand and walk for the first time as its mother licked the birth fluids off of it. I have lots of good pictures because I was standing dangerously close to the mother cow. Thank God for health insurance.
I present to you some cool photos germane to the foregoing:

This photo was taken off of the Lunyerere bridge, near Mbale. I enjoyed the bridge on the day when I took this picture, but was not so impressed when I had to leap onto it  from the tarmac because there were vehicles coming in both directions and a few seconds later found myself on my left side and adorned with a nice coating of mud on my left side and a series of parallel scrapes on my shin. I still finished that run, going all the way to (and just beyond) Chavakali Market.

This is the sidewalk. In Canada we use the expression "off the beaten path" although it would be much more appropriate for Kenya, where there are actually paths that are beaten, as opposed to paths that are unbeaten. Above, I present to you the beaten path.

Facing east.

Last Sunday, one of the cows on the compound gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Here is Jambo (us muzungus named her Jambo. Say it in the most muzungu way possible, really stretching the "a"), looking all placenta-y.

Jambo's been somewhat cleaned up by her mother, who doesn't seem to mind at all. I got this shot thanks to my amazing vantage point. Jambo hasn't started walking by this point, but thanks to help from the man who takes care of the animals, she's on her own four feet now:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reflections on a Week Away from Home

So it has been nine days since I left home for Kenya. While I haven’t started work yet, I’ve been having a great time (for real!). I would have expected that I would need some alone time, but I haven’t been craving it in any way, shape or form. I’m excited to begin my research and needs assessments in the coming weeks. Tomorrow I’m going to meet an important local figure (confidentiality, sorry) to get approval for part of my research, which is exciting.
I suppose the best way to organise this post is by category, so that you can get a bird’s-eye view of my life this week. Suffice to say that my life hasn't been like this:
(the biogas reservoir on the compound. Yes, that's manure. Yes, we do use ithe gas to heat our food. What a beautiful cycle. We use the result of food to create food.)
Food. No, I haven’t died yet. No, I haven’t gotten cholera. No, I haven’t gotten diarrhea. The food has been both amazing and amazingly safe. Our host is a wonderful man and a wonderful cook. He made us a beef-and-potato stew on the second day and it was so good that we’re still talking about it. Another day we went to his sister’s house (which is on the same compound) and he made a green-lentil stew which we ate with chapatis that we all made together (actually, mostly Anjum and Antu, our resident natives of the subcontinent).
I’ve also tried ugali, which is the Kenyan staple. It’s a thick paste/porridge made from maize flour that is used to pick up or mop up the main dishes. When you eat out, half of your plate is filled with greens or stew or something and the other half is filled by a giant steaming blob of ugali. You can’t just grab it and eat, though. For the best taste and texture, you have to knead the ugali in your palm to make it glutinous (a process that takes a few seconds at most) and then turn it into a little glove to grab your food with (or just eat plain). You can make ugali with unsifted flour, which creates the equivalent of whole-wheat bread. I haven’t made ugali yet, although I will be sure to have pictures taken when I do.
Transportation. No, I haven’t died yet. No, I haven’t gone to the hospital yet. No, I haven’t been in any accidents yet. I’ve taken both the piki-piki (motorcycle taxi) (much like the xe ôm in Vietnam) and the matatu (van taxi). The matatus are pretty rad. They have anywhere from 11 to 14 seats but actually seat 20 or more people. When you get on, you negotiate with the ‘conductor’ a price to get to your destination. Oddly enough, you don’t pay until you’re in the middle of your ride. I would have thought that there would have been mad staring at the muzungus on the matatus, but it’s been okay when I’ve been on them. No funny stories from the matatus, except for being told by my coordinator to throw my banana peel out the window (apparently, the cows love to eat the peels). Matatus don’t have route numbers because ‘round these parts each town has only one main road.
It’s been a bit of an adjustment to get used to the fact that Kenyans drive on the wrong side of the road. When I cross the road I still look the wrong way for passing traffic.
Language. I haven’t really used much Swahili yet. I actually haven’t spoken to that many Kenyans, and most of the time it’s been in English. I have busted out a few Kimaragoli (local vernacular) phrases, including “Buche” (“good morning”), “mirembe” (“hello”) and “utigari borahi” (“goodbye”). When I went to the market today I tried some Kiswahili but it ended up reverting to English because it was difficult for me to say Swahili fluently. I know what I want to say but because the language is new I get anxious enough that the words get stuck in my chest. Even when speaking English the words get stuck sometimes. My stammer has come back with a vengeance and I’m doing my best to manage it given that I don’t really have private space to practice fluent speaking. I’m intentionally speaking slowly and making eye contact with those with whom I’m speaking. Doing those things makes it better, although I still stutter and get blocks. I think that as I speak more I will become more confident in speaking, and as I become more confident in speaking I will stutter less. I just need to not avoid or reduce speaking time because of fear of stammering. I do foresee an issue when I’m interviewing government officials, as I’ll probably be pretty nervous, and therefore stammery. But I can do it! I’ll look them in the eyes, and breathe properly, and speak clearly. I’ll probably stammer some, but it’s really not the end of the world. It’ll just force them to listen to me more closely.
For my research I will hire someone to translate to and from Kiswahili (Swahili) and Kimaragoli. Perhaps that person will be able to teach me some useful Kiswahili and Kimaragoli. There doesn’t seem to be too much literature written in Kimaragoli but I will be very happy if I can get my hands on a Kimaragoli hymn book and bring it home. I would like to be able to write a Kimaragoli 101 for next year’s crop of SIDers going to Kenya.
Accommodations. Our house is so wonderful. We have both great infrastructure and great people. We have an indoor shower, a gas stove and running water (which is more than you can say for many homes in the area). Showers are of the bucket variety. They are so freakin’ awesome. I use less than 2 litres of water per shower here, while in Canada I use a hell of a lot more than that in the shower. I am seriously going to take bucket showers at home in Canada. It’ll be really easy because I won’t have to wait for the hot water to boil – the water tank will have boiled it already. I’m going to go on a freakin’ bucket shower crusade. Organise riots in the streets. Lobby my Member of Parliament to get him to propose a multi-million dollar initiative to educate people about bucket showering. Given the federal Conservatives’ record on the environment, I’m not optimistic that he’d listen.
My sleeping arrangements are definitely different from those I have in Canada. When I was on residence, I had flatmates. At summer camp, I had roommates. But here, I have a bedmate. Dave and I share a big bed, which takes up about two thirds of our bedroom. Our suitcases (dressers) take up another 20 per cent of our floor space. So we really don’t have much space to hang out in our bedroom. But the room is really only for sleeping and changing anyway. We should be out in the living room talking or relaxing with others, or out doing our work, not cooped up in our rooms!
Phone and Internet. I caved and got an Android. It did hurt to part with so many shillings, but it makes Internet access very accessible. Also, SID can buy it back from me right before I leave, so that future SIDers can have the use of an Android for much less than I paid.
For this month, and this month only, I have a data allowance of 1.5 GB. I’ve definitely had to restrict my Internet use to the most elementary functions (email, document retrieval and the occasional Facebook login). If I have a lot left over around the middle of next month (when the 1.5 GB expires) then I’ll have a data party. I’ll watch all of the YouTube videos that I’ve been craving, such as Top 60 Jewish Ghetto Names and The King’s Singers’ rendition of The Barber of Seville.
And that’s the kind of week it’s been. From all of us in North Maragoli Ward, Sabatia Constituency, Sabatia District, Western Province, Kenya, have a good night. Stay tuned for your local news.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hello everybody! I've decided to keep things simple and use this defunct blog for my time in Kenya. Sure, the name "Josh in Hanoi" doesn't reflect my being in Kenya, but keep in mind that a lot of names don't reflect what they denote. As George Carlin said, you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway. Figure that one out.