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.

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