20 January 2009

Farewell to Bush from Kenya

I bring you tonight's blog as Michael and I listen to BBC Africa's coverage of the inauguration.  They have had very thorough coverage that spans the great continent where large parties are taking place.  I would love to have been able to go to Kisumu, the large city that is only two hours from me and also less than two hours from Obama's family village, but safety is a great concern and being out at night is just not possible.  Dark means inside and that is that.  

All I want to say about the inauguration is that whether or not you voted for Obama, we should be happy to live in a country where power can change without corruption or violence.  Kenya's last election took place a year ago and involved a significant opposition party that many believe won the election.  When the party in power forced the election commission to certify the election in its favor, violence erupted.  I spoke to an American girl who is also staying in Malava through another program about being here during that time.  She told me about how she did not sleep because of the gun shots outside and when the state department called she was told to either pack up enough supplies for a month and lock her self inside or flee immediately.  Once packed, she traveled with the people she was with to Kisumu airport.  Along the way, she saw numerous upside down matatu's and burning buildings.  What happened in Kenya tends to be the norm for many countries throughout the world.  I do not consider myself to be a patriot or any sort of super American lover (country first anyone?), but we do have a very stable system.  I hope that we have elected an intelligent and poised leader, but we can always choose someone else in four years.

Ok enough rambling and back to yapping about myself.  Today was a far better day at the St. Julie's Center.  I worked with two children.  The first, who had mental disabilities, worked on counting and alphabet games with me.  He was easily able to count (in English and Swahili), but he could not identify numbers out of order.  The same for the alphabet.  Order was no problem, but when I quizzed him on letters he had no idea.  I was told that not long ago he could not even say either in order.  After working with him, I played a little soccer with a boy with CP.  His right leg was far weaker, so we kicked the ball back and forth to help him not only use his weaker leg to kick, but to also use it to stabilize while he kicked with his left foot.  That all brought me to 12:30 (nothing really starts until 9:30 or later).  At that point all the children had been seen by the therapists and it was time for tea and bread. 

I have not said anything about the famous Kenyan Chai.  It is prepared by mixing milk and water and boiling both together.  My father always said not to boil milk.  Well, Dad, they do it here and it works out just fine.  This is then added to black tea, strained and finally sugar is added (a whole lot).  Pour that into a thermos to keep hot and enjoy at your pleasure.  It is very very very sweet, but I am enjoying it so far.  I still prefer my "strong" tea, as they call it.  That is just black tea without milk or sugar.  When I told the people at the center that was how I take my tea they all recoiled in chorus to the thought of "strong" tea.  This is a daily staple for a snack.  Along with buttered bread, this has essentially become my lunch.  It is filling and free, so I will certainly not complain.

I enjoy tea time because it gives everyone a chance to gather round and just talk about whatever moves us.  Today, we had a two pronged discussion.  The first of which involved the English Premier League.  Since my brother and cousins are Chelsea fans, I have adopted them as my team knowing that it was basically the only sport that mattered in Kenya.  David and Neto are both Manchester United supporters.  Unfortunately, Man U sits in first place and Chelsea in a close third.  We traded jovial barbs about each others team, but I was outmatched because I was alone and my team was not in first (for those who may not know, this is the Yankees-Red Sox of English Soccer).  The second topic revolved around American and Kenyan politics.  Since Obama is always on the tip of everyone's tongue, he naturally came up in conversation.  Surprisingly,  Bush is not held in contempt here in Kenya.  In fact, I was shocked to learn that people support the actions of the United States in Iraq.  Evidently the connection to Obama is one that is deeply rooted in national pride, but also in a true belief that he will be a better leader.  I thought everyone to blindly support Obama because of his Kenyan roots, but that is not the whole truth.  People see him as an inspiration because they agree with what he says and believes.  This is only catapulted by the fact that there actually can be a good leader who is African.  Leaders here have been a trail of disappointments, but Obama really does give hope to an entire continent.  I can say that I am guilty of thinking the people of Kenya to be unintelligent.  It was not something that I thought outwardly or even purposefully, but I find myself surprised when I have thoughtful conversations with Kenyans.  I now realize that there was something within me that held myself in some sort of superiority.  It is this very thing that I wish to destroy, but it is disheartening to realize that I am nowhere near to where I think I am. 

After chai and discussions I went back home, made two trips to gather water, boiled some, cleaned the gutters just before the rain started (two days of solid rain!!), and made dinner (fried potatoes, onions, carrots and eggs).  Michael and I enjoyed a fine meal as we listened to the BBC and discussed our days.  He commented on how "domestic" I am because I am constantly working on various things around the house.  I think that is fair enough because I always feel that something can be done around here and I just go ahead and do it.  Things are well here. Michael and I have built a good rapport so far.

Obama just finished his speech and people are dancing and singing in Kisumu right now.  How wild is that?

I will finish with random thoughts and quotes.

Today I learned four Malava customs (I was told these before, and many others, but I will only mention them when they actually happen):

  1. Woman breast feed when the baby is hungry, even if they are waiting inside of a public building.  A mother just pulled down her shirt, popped out her breast, and the child drank away (very contently I must add).
  2. You shake everyone's hand whenever they come into the center.  Even people who you know or have seen the day before.  As people come to work, they make their rounds shaking hands.  This is a standard greeting for all occasions.  If you see someone you know on the street, go over and shake his/her hand.
  3. People expect you to come and visit when they tell you where they live.  I ran into the foreman from the SND compound (who I have met a few times) this afternoon.  We said hello and shook hands (also when you know someone better than an acquaintance you give a sort of high five hand shake where you swing from high with a large smile and interlock at the thumbs).  He then said, "Tom! Why have you not come to see my house?"  Taken aback, I stammered and said, "Oh, right.  Where did you say you lived?"  That was a dumb thing to say because he had already pointed out his house that is next to the SND compound.  He was kind enough to remind me and I said I would go by and see his home later in the week.
  4. Guests are always welcome, and will stop by at any time.  Kenya does not really operate on a schedule.  Therefore, people will come by unannounced to introduce themselves, and as illustrated before, people expect you to just drop on by at any time.

There was a terrible crash between a bus and a cargo truck between Mombassa and Nairobi where 24 people died.  Both of the vehicles ran into each other head on and were wrecked.  Ironically, the bus company was called Smash Co.

After Aretha Franklin sang, the BBC anchor said she had just performed, "This my Country 'Tis Thee."

I have a new favorite phrase.  It used to be "Mind the Gap."  Which can be heard blaring throughout the subway in England.  It has been replaced by "Top Up Here."  When you want to go get minutes for your cell phone you go to basically any shot and "Top Up."  So, today I needed to add some money to my phone.  I went to a shop around St. Julies to "Top Up."  It is a very fancy sounding phrase that gives no indication as to what you are actually doing.  In fact, it is redundant because the top is generally up.  You would think that someone would have come up with a better phrase that that, but then I would not be able to enjoy seeing signs EVERYWHERE that say "Top Up Here."

Good night.