Part one of what will be many cultural observances in my travels and outtings
08.07.2010 - 11.07.2010 63 °F
Hope you’re not sweltering in the blistering heat that I’ve heard is plaguing Pittsburgh. Not to rub it in, but its about 65 degrees here most days and nice and cool at night. You would think you were all in Africa and I was in the States ha.
Well Ive been in Eldoret for a week now and there are a few cultural things I’ve realized so far. Also, I’ve included a description of the most important topic of conversation in Kenya (besides the World Cup games) – the Referendum vote on August 4th:
1.) The food is amazing but yet surprisingly really good for you since its with all natural foods. Most days we have chapatti (naan/pita), suku ku wiki (greens, kinda like spinach), ugali (cornmeal), fried chicken (soooo good I don’t know what they put on it but yum!), lentil beans, long grain white rice (like at Salems for those of you who know what that is), MANDAZI! (fried dough – ok not everything can be good for you) and chai and instant coffee and hot chocolate. For dessert we have mandazi and fresh fruit- oranges (which are more yellow), melon, banana and MANGO! (trying to get pictures soon without looking weird)
2.) There are about 5 meals a day! I wake up and have breakfast around 7am at the guest house with my Indiana friends. We usually have sausage, boiled brown eggs, white bread and preservatives (strawberry is my favorite) and oranges and bananas and usually Milo which is like hot chocolate but is all natural, sweet and really good. Around 10-10:30 there is tea which consists of fruit, instant coffee, chai or milo and then a cake or mandazi. I have to stay away from taking double tea (as there is tea again at 4) or else Ill be gaining some unnecessary weight. Lunch consists of the same food I eat at dinner and they treat us with Fanta orange, Krest Bitter Lemon soda or Coca-Cola. We have lunch around 1 everyday and then dinner at 7. Needless to say, food is a really big part of Kenyan culture and there is a lot of conversation at the dinner table.
3.) You say hi to about everyone you pass and if you’ve met them before you usually have a pretty indepth conversation with them about their day which is nice. Most people are really friendly. The kids are still in school right now so they usually head home for lunch and dinner the same time I do. Most of the time they run up and say hi and we have a small conversation in Swahili or they go directly to English which is a really nice gesture on their part. I’ve been trying to speak more Swahili and my speaking skills are getting better but sometimes its difficult for me to translate what is being said as they speak faster than my level of comprehension. There are 42 different ethnic groups in Kenya! Each ethnic group has their own local language. In Eldoret, most people speak Nande as well as Kiswahili and English.
4.) The houses stay colder as they don’t need to insulation we need for winter in houses in the US. The houses have like a natural air conditioning. Also, depending on a family’s economic situation, some of the family’s have people to come in and help with the cleaning, laundry, and general house maintenance.
5.) There are a lot of US reruns that play on the Kenyan tv systems. I’ve fallen into the routine of watching Cougars, The Amazing Race and Fresh Prince of BelAir. Most of the music and TV is American which I wasn’t necessarily expecting. Obviously, the FIFA World Cup is one of the main sources of entertainment and I’ve noticed most Kenyans were big fans of Ghana and Germany. (I’m rooting for Spain now.)
6.) The News is a Kenyan station and they speak Swahili (I can catch about every third word) but the Parliament members and administration (the Prime Minister Raila and President Kabaki speak English. Some Kenyan news updates: There is a referendum vote on August 4th and issues such as abortion rights, land reform, executive branch setup and the Kadhi courts. The party for the referendum is the green party, and those against are the red party.
a. Those pushing for the “No” vote are claiming that there are policies within the newly drafted constitution which are speared by foreign interests and do not fit within the established framework of the Kenyan community. The Catholic Church and the PM for Higher Education wants to push back the referendum but it looks like Parliament will be carrying on with the vote. One of the main pre-referendum election campaigns is for civic education on the issues that are being voted on. Although the funding for the education programs have not yet been dispersed to the Committee of Experts (CoE) by Parliament and the Treasury, CoE members have continued to hold educational meetings in multiple communities around the area including Eldoret (where I am staying).
b. President Obama is supporting the Yes campaign as he sees much positive influence of the revised constitution but many of his American political adversaries (Republicans) are against the referendum as it legalizes abortion in Kenya. There is no difference between American politics and Kenyan politics as the American sub-African commission is concerning itself with one point, the legalization of abortion, and running with it. There are many other issues on the table that are being voted on in this referendum vote.
c. As writers of the Daily Nation, one of the head Kenyan newspapers points out, voting No against the referendum will maintain the tribal polarity that has been a dynamic force in Kenyan political decisions such as public fund allocations. The revision of the Constitution which was sent out for the Kenyan public’s review on May 6th, 2010, giving the Kenyan people 3 months to review, discuss and ask questions about the main points of the constitution before the voting took place. The redrafting of the constitution was a major negotiation point to stop the post-election violence witnessed in December 2007. Since then, the new draft has been worked on and overseen by the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) which it aimed to delegate power, create more of a checks and balances, open up the kadhi court, eliminate the marginalization of ethnic groups.
d. The proposals that are the main issues, aside from the legalization of abortion in MEDICAL EMERGENCIES, is the weakening of the President’s role and the strengthening of the court/judicial system. This measure would be the beginning steps to eliminate the marginalization or favoritism of ethnic parties.
e. Land reform is one of the biggest changes in the constitution. Women will receive more land rights as part of the country’s attempt to create gender equity.
f. The Kadhi courts are Muslim courts which are apart from the secular judiciary system and address issues such as marriage, divorce and land appropriation. As it is difficult as an American to accept this argument for why the Kadhi courts should exist as it creates segregation in a hopeful integrated and unified Kenyan community, it is one of the cultural ideals that Kenyans do not want to dismiss in exchange for adopted foreign democracy. I was apathetic toward those supporting the Kadhi courts until I read an article from the “Kenya London News” by Peter Ondeng and Peter Waiyaki in which they say “The only effect of not including the courts in the constitution would be that, like for all other religions, there would be no funding using tax payers money, and the offices for Kadhis would be recognized rightly as religious offices, and not government office. Most importantly, the draft constitution that will soon be presented to Kenyans for a referendum must include the important clause removed by the PSC: that all religions will be treated equally. “ With this point being made, I think the only way to strengthen the unity that the Yes referendum is searching for is to omit the Kadhi courts as a tax sponsored court system.
7.) I saw the Moi University Public Heath school yesterday which is disconnected from the main campus and is right in the town of Eldoret. The future doctors of Kenya go to school here and I met Dr. Wanjiku’s younger daughter, Njeri, who is going to school at the school of Public Health, and her friend Sam who is also a student and a resident of the student hostels. The hostels are TINY TINY with enough room for a desk, a shelf for both students clothes, and a bunk bed. What is left is about a 3x3 foot floor space. Like I said TINY. And the bathrooms are far from appealing and the students have to provide their own toilet paper. They work in Wards which is like the clinicals our med students have to complete. Plus side- they have free internet access in the hostels and library.
8.) The money equivalence is really cheap. Food usually costs between 125-400 ksh which is about $1.35-5.25 USD for an established, really good restaurant. For 10 hours of internet is about $12 USD. I really haven’t spent much money here at all, especially compared to Spain last summer. Some of the Kenyan med students go to the bars on the weekends, I haven’t gone yet, but we might go out of our friend Abby’s birthday tonight with the program directors. As it is our first time out and about and as obvious American students, we want to take the precaution of having our Kenyan directors and some of the local students with us.
9.) Today I took my first matatu ride from Eldoret Town to Moi University. It took about 45 minutes to get there after we waited at the ‘stage’ for ½ an hour to wait for the matatu to fill up with enough people to make the trip. The 45 minute ride cost me about 100 ksh (BOB) which is about $1.25. The ride was really smooth and there are usually about 10 people in a matatu. It dropped me right off at the center of the campus so it was a safe walk to my guest house. The interesting thing I witnessed at the stage was there people try and sell EVERYTHING to you while you are either walking to the matatu or even while it is sitting idle waiting for enough people. When I saw everything I mean EVERYTHING: candy, newspapers, snacks, chai mix, socks, watches, notepads, pencils, pens, bootlegged cds and movies. You just have to say ‘hapana’ (no) or ignore them and mind your own business.
More to write later. Heading back to the Moi University main campus after a great few nights at Dr. Wanjikus. Ill write with details soon! Hope everyone is doing well.
Love, hugs and kisses!
PS- I just want to say hi to Grandpap. Annie told me he has been reading my posts and I am really excited to have the opportunity to keep in touch with everyone at home. Hello to Grandma and Pap and I promise to call soon. Miss and love you both. Don't worry I'm safe and everyone here is really nice to me and I'm learning a lot. Can't wait to talk to you too. And don't worry Pap - No boys (but as you probably know, I am eating A LOT of food!)