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Following James Michener’s theory of travel

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

sunny 63 °F

I’ve found my best glimpses into the Kenyan culture and lifestyle has been during my time spent with my friends in Nairobi and Eldoret. I’ve accepted the food, learned the customs, embraced the religion and the people. James Michener would be proud. This weekend, after my IU friends left on their grand adventures to the coast, I went with Professor Naiomi Shitemi to attend a traditional Kikuyu wedding. Although we didn’t make it to the wedding due to an accident involving a pothole and a huge rock (the roads are horrible as most are not paved and the rains wash away the dirt road unearthing huge rocks). But, sans wedding, the weekend was really nice. Professor Shitemi, the Kiswahili director at Moi University and an Arts and Sciences (SASS) lecturer, was the professor for my Mwalimu Leonora. She invited me to stay the weekend at her home. I actually got to visit two of her homes – one in Soy, Kenya about an hour west of Eldoret and in Kimumu, Kenya, about ten minutes outside of Eldoret. In Soy we attended a women’s group meeting and there was A TON OF FOOD. The one great thing about Kenyan events is that you’ll never go hungry.

The Women’s group of Soy is comprised of the women who hold property in Soy. They set up projects for women in the group. For example, their most recent project is a microfinance lending program where with the dues each month, they give two people in the group each half of the money and then with that they are to buy a new cow or setup a chicken coup or fix the fence on their properties, etc. The women are all middle class/upper class but they can make decisions for the betterment for their family and property without relying on their husbands to make the initiative. And of course the women are all friends so there was lots of talking, catching up and gossiping to accompany the food and planning.

The one similarity between Spain and Nairobi is that families eat dinner exceptionally late (according to American standards). Usually we take dinner between 9 and 10, which is fine with me as that is how I grew up and have been eating late all my life. I stayed with Professor Shitemi’s family in Kimumu, right outside of Eldoret, and by doing so, I became great friends with her two nieces, Lydia and Carol. Carol is 20 and Lydia is 28 and they were so welcoming and it wasn’t long after I set my bags down that we were drinking chai and talking for hours. I really wish I would have contacted Professor Shitemi earlier into my trip as I would have loved to spend more time with her family. P. Shitemi also has a daughter Marcy who is studying at Indiana University (and who the family concluded that I act like and we have the same personality) and a son Ken and a daughter Rosie who just finished form 7. Rosie goes to a boarding school which is popular for families who can afford private school costs (still inexpensive compared to the US).

As I come from a big family, it was really nice being around a big Kenyan family. Although Lydia and Carol are P. Shitemi’s nieces, they live with her family as their families are in the US and they are studying here. Jamii or family does not necessarily mean intermediate family and by the end of my time in Eldoret, I caught myself calling P Shitemi Mama like the girls do. I think I came out of my shell because I had such a good experience with both Dr. Wanjiku’s and Mama Shitemi’s families and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

On Sunday we went to the Shitemi’s Anglician church in which this particular Sunday was ‘Choir Mass’. There were 5 choirs from all over the country joining St. John’s congregation for a musical mass of traditional African Christian songs and instruments. It was gorgeous and the music was beautiful. After mass, we all stuck around and had lunch and listened to an encore performance.

All in all it was a great weekend full of good food, great company and beautiful music.

Posted by WendiBandi 21:48 Archived in Kenya Tagged events Comments (0)

Fun in Eldoret: Part 2

"A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

sunny 62 °F

As I’ve spent more time at Moi, I’ve become more familiar and comfortable with Eldoret, and with Sister Clara and my IU friends, have ventured out a bit into the city. Eldoret is about a 45 minute ride (about an hour if going by matatu compared to private University van) and has a ton of shopping facilities. Last Sunday Sister Clara and I rode into town and went to Catholic mass at the Adoration Catholic Church. It was a great service and had a mix of traditional songs and instruments but the same Catholic prayers and service we have in the states. It’s inevitable to get through a mass with at least one mention of the referendum or some political issues. (By the way the referendum vote is 9 days away) After mass though we went to the adoration chapel where there is the Eucharist and images of Mary and Jesus. The interesting part is that shoes are not permitted to be worn within the chapel so you take off your shoes at the door.

After church we went to lunch and I had sausage (so good here) and cabbage with githeri. Githeri is mashed or boiled potatoes with red beans and onions. It’s really good! And of course chai was served after we finished our meal. The supermarket chain is Nakumat and it has everything including a bookstore! So I had the opportunity to stock up for the week (reading “Stardust” now). One of the difficulties I’ve faced many times is the willingness and insistence for others to help you. Sister insists that she should carry everything, or pay for the matatu, which is hard for me to accept as I’m a very independent person and like to take care of myself. Sister is not the only one; when you go to someone’s house, they insist you sit and have them take care of you. It is very polite of them, but it is difficult for me to accept this as I was not brought up to sit back and let others take care of me.

But back to our adventures. On Monday I went with Miriam and her husband to Eldoret to meet with the Council of Wareng County and after our meeting (described in my earlier post) we went to this fish market where we had fresh caught tilapia from Lake Victoria. It was the best fish I’ve had! And they serve with a “stew” on top of fresh greens and tomato with ugali on the side. It was delicious. On Tuesday, I took the day off and ventured into town to meet with my fellow Swahili friend’s friend Chris who is Kenyan. I delivered a present to him from Katie and we had a nice walk and then I made my way to Rivatex where I picked out some wonderful fabric and had some dresses and skirts made for myself and a bag with a map of Africa and Kenya is highlighted! It’s going to be so cool! After the Rivatex adventure I made my way to the matatu stage where I saw a sign for an ice cream shop, Cleopatra’s and it was so good! It had more of a European/American feel to it which was nice as I was a little homesick that day. I brought by IU friends there with me on Tuesday when we went into town to Imani, a crafts shop that makes jewelry, art and clothing and sells them. All the proceeds go to help HIV positive patients in the area. Our friend Malliron from IU had an internship here before she started the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) program at Moi. I got some really amazing things (cant say what I picked up as they are presents for many of you reading). We had a great dinner with the New Zealanders, Mit, Matt and Cole, at a Chinese restaurant. Also, Nikki and I tried this drink called Zappa. It tastes like cinnamon and black licorice. Not my favorite but its really popular around here. Kinda like Jagermeister. Tuesday was the first night we were really allowed off the leashes and able to go grab dinner by ourselves (although we did have a Moi University driver taking us to the different places).

Thursday night we went to the end of class party at the guest house where all of the EIA students, Moi University and IU, were there and they had a huge buffet with amazing food (the traditional ugali, rice, chicken with the great marinade (I think its called royco), cabbage, samosas, chapatti and much more) as well as drinks and mandazi. There was a lot of dancing and the professors gave some speeches about international partnership and environmental impact. It was a nice night all in all and we went for the graduation ceremony the next day. (By the way, the one IU professor wore a zebra suit (zebra skirt and zebra long jacket). They Kenyan students thought the Americans were crazy. We had to explain that she did not represent all of our fashion choices- just her own!) Graduation was nice and although I was not part of EIA I was invited to attend the ceremony and the luncheon. Dr. Wakhungu introduced me and was very inviting. I will really miss seeing him and his wife, Dr. Pheobe, everyday. Even though it was just a certificate program, the graduation was a really big deal on campus and everyone was dressed up and was presented with the certificate by calling the names one by one. (They didn’t play Pomp and Circumstance though). We had lunch at the guest house then made our way into town where we got ice cream AGAIN (yes were obsessed) and then dinner at this great Indian restaurant. I tried Paneer which is a cheese dish in a seasoned sauce. It was really good – Im going to have to try it again at India Garden in Oakland. Nikki and I split amazing stuffed mushrooms and there was so much food to go around (aw garlic naan is my favorite!) The car ride back was really bumpy. We rode in a Prado which is like an SUV but has a bench seat in the middle and then a two person seat in the back right on top of the back wheels. It was a tight squeeze but definitely an experience to say the least. We then watched ‘Up in the Air’ which was pretty good before we got ready for bed. Malliron and Dr. Wakhungu gave me a SPEA (School of Public and Environmental Affairs) leather key chain and bookmark.

I’ll definitely miss the IU friends’ company. It was really nice to have other students my age and who were Americans here with me. I have done a lot of interacting with the local people here, but when I’m done with my research and homesick at night, it’s nice to go over and just watch a movie or have dinner with my friends who are experiencing the same feelings I am. I’ll get to see Candene in Nairobi August 1st when were going to go to the Maasai market and also Nikki, Nicole and Sarah at Hell’s Gate National Park in Naivashia, Kenya from August 8th-9th. I hope they all have a great time in Mombasa and in Kisumu during the next week and I can’t wait to meet up with them again soon.

I am looking forward to my next 25 days here though and have a lot of interesting things planned. I went to Professor Shitemi’s on Saturday afternoon for the weekend (in my next post) and met her amazing family and also had the opportunity to go to an Anglican church and hear 5 choirs from all over Kenya treat us to a performance during the service. I will also be going to Lake Bogorio by Itein where there are hot springs and a great view of the Rift Valley. I’ll FINALLY get to go to some schools this week, definitely to SOS Primary which is a German sponsored school for students in Eldoret community as well as the orphans in the area. On Friday I’ll head back to Nairobi to see my wonderful friends, the Muthama family!
Ill have two more posts up soon with details about my weekend in Kimumu and Soy with Prof. Shitemi as well as my research from the past week!

Miss you all and can’t wait to see you – 21 more days!

Here is a website for Hell’s Gate National Park: http://www.kws.org/parks/parks_reserves/HGNP.html

Posted by WendiBandi 08:35 Archived in Kenya Tagged events Comments (0)

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