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:

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