12 January 2009

Alive and in Nairobi

The first full day here is coming to an end.  We just finished a wonderful dinner made up of various dishes that included spinach, rice, (corn flour boiled in water - looks liked mashed potatoes and is rather tasty) and a beef stew with cabbage and carrots.

I now write as many of us are watching the news on KTN.  News here is the same as everywhere: If it makes it on tv, its can't be good.  One story includes how 8 ministers of parliament are traveling to the Obama inauguration supported by taxpayer money.  Only foreign diplomats are invited to the event, but the eight will be going to an "African Bash."  This is all while the country is having a food shortage caused by drought.  So, from the news here I have learned that politicians in every country can manage to waste tax dollars.

This morning I awoke at about 10am with what felt like a heavy hangover.  My stomach was not happy and my head was swimming in the Indian Ocean.  After some instant coffee (2 cups) and a hot shower, I started to feel more settled.  At around noon the rest arose and we had lunch that was a vegetable stew and a good ol' pb&j sandwich. 

After a brief orientation we were left up to our own devices.  Wanting to walk outside, Michael and I decided to take a lap around the block.  I seemed to have forgotten that I was in another country, but I was quickly reminded when we were the only two white people walking about.  It is very surreal to all of a sudden become the minority.  There is no real warning or announcement, but I couldn't help notice that everyone was watching us as we walked.  It felt like what I would imagine some sort of Hollywood type would feel if he/she walked around a small US town.  Everyone we passed fixed their eyes upon us and craned their necks as far as possible as we passed by on the street.

We returned back to the estate/property and met up with Sammy, a nice gentleman who is responsible for overseeing the SND property.  After chatting, he offered to take us on a tour of the area.  It was on this tour that I head the first exclamation of the word that will come to dominate my identity for the next year: "Mzungu."  Mzungu is Swahili for white person.  We were told that we would be called this, but it was not the same as hearing it come from the mouth of a child.  The children we passed had one of three reactions:

  1. Jaw drop to the floor as if it completely detached with wide eyes so big that the pupil is the size of the number one on dice.
  2. See us and react with number one and run for their lives (I am sure that my mom will say to herself "it's because of your beard!" and that may be so, but I believe it really was just our skin color).
  3. Before the first reaction can take effect a monster smile lights up the child's face and he/she sheepishly yells and points, "Mzungu."  When we responded, they wanted to test their English with phrases such as "hello" and "how are you?"

I believed this to be both funny and startling, but that was not before we went to the market.  In order to do so, we had to first cross the street.  This was no easy task.  Imagine New York City without any crosswalks or stop lights and then consider the NYC cab drivers to be timid (or as I would like to think, Frogger on speed).  Once in the market, we were greeted by every person who wanted us to "come and see [his] shop."  The word "no" did not seem sufficient and it was also to get a word in edgewise to the most persistent businessmen I have ever met.  Thankfully, Sammy was there to whisk us away from the vendors who wanted us to go all over the market just to see what they had so that we could come back and buy things tomorrow.

Needless to say, rest was necessary and welcomed.  Overall, things are well and I am very happy to be here.  Tomorrow we travel into the city to get cell phones, change money, and ride the infamous "mutatu's" (busses).