Extended family has a new meaning for me. The family and friends of Mwalimu Kivuva have helped me combat my homesickness. In addition to the Muthama family in Nairobi, Dr. Wanjiku in Eldoret has opened her home to me as well.
08.07.2010 - 11.07.2010 61 °F
I spent an amazing weekend at Dr. Wanjiku’s house with her daughter Khadi. Dr. Wanjiku lives in Eldoret Town in one of the many estates in a really nice 3 room flat. Dr. Wanjiku picked me up from the guest house on Thursday night and after a nice 45 minute drive, arrived at the house where I met Khadi and we began making dinner. We had really good wheat chapo (chapatti), lentils and vegetables. We watched some American TV (woo!) – the “Amazing Race” and “Bite Me with Dr. Mike Leahy” and then I got a really good nights sleep and slept in for the first time in a while.
Khadi and I went into town and met Dr. Wanjiku and her daughter, Njeri, for lunch at the Moi University School of Public Health Guest house. Needless to say, the food was very good. Njeri just finished her Med school exam that took 5 hours(!) and we went to the Hostel to meet her friend Sam, another Med student. I got to learn a lot about the Med school process. There are about 30 students accepted into the program that are ‘government sponsored’ and the cost of attendance is relatively low but the school also accepts another 100 private students who have to pay much higher tuition prices. The dorms are absolutely TINY as I explained in my last post.
We walked around town and went to the market. There are a ton of sellers at one place and they haggle you a bit to buy from them. The most astonishing fact was that kids walk around selling plastic bags for 5ksh (the equivalent of 6 cents!) Sam bought a bag off of one of the boys and he asked him if he goes to school (in Kiswahili) and the boy replied, “No because I work here.” It was a really hard moment as the child only makes 6 cents per bag and a lot of people bring their own bags. I realized then that this was not an oddity – that it happens more often than not. Depressing, but it let me see what I was working towards eradicating.
In my reading this week, I learned a lot about mtumbaism, the largest industry in these areas. Mtumba is the Swahili word for second hand clothes. One of the authors I have been reading, Hon Mwandawiro Mghanga, writes about mtumbaism and the process of underdevelopment and the effects of globalization on developing countries like Kenya. Globalization is in reality global capitalism in which there is apparent distribution of wealth between the OECD countries such as US, Japan, the EU and China, compared to countries in Latin America, Africa and Southwest Asia. Trade is skewed between countries like Kenya and their trading partners in the wealthy North. Most parts of Kenya are ‘peasant substance societies” meaning they are horticulture producers exporting cash crops such as corn and coffee, and the majority of those living in the communities center their trade around the microcosm of their villages and small towns. There are no commercial centers with malls, mega grocery stores or shopping centers like Target, Walmart or TJ Maxx. Instead, there are many small outdoor markets, a low-key supermarket and then many stalls and walking sellers with mtumba for sale. These second hand commodities do not just include clothes but also shoes, socks, blankets, cars, utensils, machines etc. Since 1970 mtumbaism is becoming more and more accepted as 78% of Kenyans identified themselves as struggling, 13% are suffering while only 9% consider themselves thriving and my observations within Eldoret, Nairobi and the surrounding the communities of these two hubs validate these claims. While waiting for a matatu to return to campus from Dr. Wanjiku’s, I was offered things from hairbrushes, watches, clothes, illegally downloaded music and dvds and children’s toys which definitely fit into the mtumba category.
Not everyone though is living off of the mtumba trading system. My colleagues, the Muthama family and Dr. Kivuva are just a few of the many I know living middle income lives and not suffering. There are malls, but the majority of Kenyans cannot afford to shop in these places. Those who can, like the Khamasi and Muthama family and many of the colleagues at Moi, live doesn’t vary much from what I am used to in the US.
I met Dr. Wanjiku’s Somali family who now lives in Kenya and Fatuma’s two kids, both who attend primary school and are thriving students. They helped me with my Swahili and we read a children’s book and had a wonderful meal. The Kenyan government passed the “Free Primary Education” act in 2003 which provides education for all students, yet some of the schools lack the basic necessities let alone new books. The main difference I notice between Kenyan children and kids in the US school systems is the amount of gratitude. Kenyan students, like Dr. Wanjiku’s niece and nephew, are appreciative that their parents pay school fees for them to go to private primary schools rather than the dilapidated public education facilities. Ill save the details about the school systems for my next post about my research, but I’ll finish off on the subject by saying that the only option for upward mobility is through education which is why it is so valued.
Apart from visiting with Dr. Wanjiku’s family and friends and watching TV, I learned how to cook ndazi and make chai! I cant wait to make some at home as its really good. I returned to see my wonderful friends after a long weekend apart. Check out the next two blogs soon to come with details about what we do for fun around here and my research so far (its going really well!)
With love, hugs and kisses for all,