Finally arrived in Kenya! First few days were wonderful <3
02.07.2010 - 04.07.2010 60 °F
Jambo Marafiki na Jamaa Yangu kwa Nairobi!!!
I hope everyone is doing well so far. I have finally made it to Kenya! I got in around 8:45am Friday, July 2nd into the Jomo Kenyatta Airport where I saw Dr. Kivuva (recognized him before I saw the sign!). As I wasn’t that tired after sleeping during the entire flight, we took a driving tour of Nairobi. The first thing I noticed was that many many people walked everywhere. Along the sides of the road there were many mini gardens, which Dr. Joshua Kivuva explained, is part of the city’s new going green project. Many people maintain the gardens and use the products to sell at the markets or sokonis. It is a much better alternative for growing compared to some of the places.
We then went to Dr. Kivuva’s consulting firm where I met some of his colleagues and had a chance to read some of “The East African” paper. Obama is usually mentioned most days in the paper. For example, in Friday’s paper they were discussing the health choices of different elected leaders in light of PM Railia’s recent head surgery and mentioned how President Obama has a good diet and workout plan.
I rode in a matatu to Dr. Kivuva’s work with him and it was definitely an experience. A matatu is like a mini bus/van which is supposed to fit about 9 people but usually youll find more that that in the matatu. It stops ever block or so and is rather inexpensive (maybe 20 ksh?) Oh, the equivalent for a $1USD is 80 Kenyan shillings (KSH). Most times when you eat out, it is between 150-400 ksh ($2-5 USD) for a big, GOOD meal at an established restaurant. At a side vendor (haven’t tried one yet) selling Choma (roasted meat) or maize is maybe 50 ksh. Needless to say I haven’t spent much money here yet.
On our way to the University of Nairobi where Dr. Kivuva teaches, we walked through one of the many slums (The largest is Kibera but we didn’t go through that one). It was a really interesting and sad experience. The slums have probably close to 1000 living in there including children and the elderly. Most live off of less than 100 ksh per family a day. There are little stalls set up along the sides selling everything you can think of from food, second hand clothes to charcoal. Charcoal is usually sold by the most destitute in the slum. There is trash everywhere and goats run around eating it. Dr. Kivuva said that some of the clothes and toys being sold there are taken from the garbage of the upper classes in Kenya and then sold to those in the slums. I was there during a school day and none of the children I saw were in uniforms which made me suspect they don’t attend any schools. As I found out from my environmental studies friends here in Eldoret, most of the women living in these areas were shipped in as sex slaves and the children are the father-less children of the sex slaves. My Eldoret friends went to one of the schools in the slums and those who attend are actually really bright because they realize education is their only option out of the absolute destitution and poverty they were born into. Sorry this is such a depressing subject, but it had quite an impact on me and is one of the driving factors for my research here. (more details later).
The University of Nairobi is really nice and has very floral grounds. I had a really good lunch with Dr. Kivuva and his teaching assistant Esther who was very helpful helping me get my wireless modem and sim cards for my computer and phone. One of the annoying aspects of Kenyan communication systems is that you have to buy scratch off internet and cell phone credit to load. They usually only come in 20 ksh increments for phones which is about 15 minutes of talking time. So I have been trying to buy in bulk and then figure out if I can get on some internet plan as I usually run out halfway through a skype conversation. Good part is that I will not have another astronomical cell phone bill at the end of this trip as I did when in Barcelona (Piccell wireless I hate you!)
I’ve realized like many other things in Kenya, education is relatively cheap (compared to US universities). For one semester at University of Nairobi, it is only about 80,000 ksh or $975 USD. Esther reminded me though that there are a select who could actually afford those prices. Additionally, Sharon Wendy (Kenyans choose two names) was a Masters student studying Environmental planetary at Moi University explained that in one semester, students take about 8 classes! Class is straight through from 8-5 everyday and 20 page papers due every week.
After I returned to Dr. Kivuva’s flat, I showered and had a good vegetarian stew with fresh cut tomatoes, beans and onion. I gave Dr. Kivuva a green ‘thank you’ tie and he said that I subconsciously picked the right color as he works for the government and their color is green whereas the party in favor of the referendum is red. On August 4th there will be a vote on the referendum to the Constitution which was submitted at the beginning of May.
That evening Kilonzo Muthana, a close family friend of Dr. Kivuva and Mwalimu, came to pick me up as I was to stay at their house in the community outside of Nairobi, Ngong. Kilonzo and his family were so very nice to me. They live in a lovely two story stone house (pictures to come) with a garden. It looks much like a middle class house in the US. Njeri, Kilonzo’s wife, is a school teacher at International school where her children attend as well as the parliament members, ambassadors and ex-pats children attend. It is a private school and most children go on to receive good marks and opportunities for college. Njeri made me a wonderful meal (two in one night I know) of chapatti, beans and carrot stew, potatoes (tubers) and cabbage salad followed by bananas, fresh oranges (wish we had these in the states) and chai. I was so stuffed by the end of it. Njeri is very well educated, the local spokeswoman for the Ngong community and wrote a grant proposal to the local MP about public service funds distribution to fix the roads in Ngong. There are many bumps, potholes and rocks due to the heavy rains these past few months and no cement paving. We had some amazing talks over dinner.
Their son Nzioko is very quiet, about the same age as Michael, 13, and had a soccer tournament this weekend so I didn’t see him much but we did watch the Ghana-Germany game together. I spent a lot of my time with Ndinda, known as Lucy at school since many students cannot pronounce her name. Ndinda was kind enough to share her room with me and we stayed up the two nights of my stay talking about everything from her prom, to boys, to different perceptions about one another’s country. She is in her 12th year going into her 13th and is 17. As the school is an International school, they follow the British school system of forms.
We went to the market after sleeping late into the morning and having a wonderful breakfast where we got a lot of the fresh fruits and vegetables including butternut which we made a great soup with, potatoes, pineapple, onions, tomatoes, cabbage and carrots. It was crazy there.
I will admit I got a lot of stares being the only mzungu (white person) at the market but being with Ndinda and her mother, I had no apprehension and most people were nice and said sasa to me. I learned that when speaking to children, to say sasa instead of jambo. One little girl looked at me like I was speaking a different language rather than Kiswahili when I said “sijambo” to her.
My one interesting encounter was when a younger guy, probably a teenager, shouted mzungu at me but Ndinda explained he was probably drunk/high on an illegal substance called chang’aa. It is a lethal brew that has marijuana sticks in it and messes with peoples heads but they usually don’t act up when on it. I made sure to stay with Ndinda the entire time we were out but in the city there was no problem.
Kenyans listen to a lot of the same music we do and Ndinda and I have the same taste in music! Yes, that means Justin Beiber!! When my Mom spoke to Ndinda on skype, she commented in her next email that her English was better than my moms and many Americans that she knows. This is quite a true statement. Most Kenyans speak very good English and are fluent. There is a lot of Sweng – Swahili English – but I like it because I can pick up on some stuff and if I don’t know a word in Swahili I can switch into English and then back again.
I had another great dinner, a going away dinner, where I also gave the family my thank you presents of costume jewelry for Ndidna, a soccer shirt for Nzioko, dish towels and a watch for Njeri and a blue tie for Kilonzo. They were very appreciative and I am definitely looking forward to staying with them for the last few weeks of my trip. Ndinda and I have a lot planned for the two of us to do including a really good Ethiopian restaurant.
I’ll write about my arrival in Eldoret and my guest house with Sister Clara tomorrow!
Kwa heri marafiki na jamaa yangu!