23 January 2009


..my new mantra.  Polepole.  Slowly Slowly.  Maybe if I say it a couple hundred times a day I will be able to begin to adjust to the slowness of Kenyan life. 

Today was the yearly meeting for the St. Julie's Center.  The goal was to review the objectives from last year and form new ones for 2009.  Sue and I were given fair warning by Sister Phyllis about the fact that meetings can be unbearably slow.  After speaking to her and having been told by everyone that things were slow here, I felt that I was mentally prepared for the pace.  False.  The meeting began at 9:25.  First, the minutes from the previous meeting were read and discussed.  This was not a good start for me.  Since this was my first week, I am still learning about the center and pretty much had no idea what the heck they were talking about from the minute the meeting started.  Luckily, this was a relatively quick section and then it was on to the real meat of the meeting.  Neto was in charge because he had been the previous meetings secretary.  He was to determine the pace of the day.  It turned out to be excruciatingly slow.  I do not wish to bore you with all of the details of the meeting.  I had to live through it and I would not wish that meeting upon my enemies.  Everyone in the center is great, but Kenyans have a certain way when it comes to having a discussion.  It goes like this:  a person brings up a topic and then makes a comment about whatever he/she feels should be changed.  From there, a second individual jumps in to make a comment as well based on the previous persons ideas.  Without realizing it, the second person echoes the sentiment of the first and in the process completely confuses the rest of the group.  Therefore, the first person must clarify her position, the second must do the same, and still nothing happens.  A third person will jump in attempting to alleviate the situation only to make it even worse.  You are then left with a frustrated group who does not understand what each other is saying when in fact, all agree on the same thing.  Finally, someone happens upon an explanation that makes sense to all and we move on.  This pattern continued throughout the day.  We took a break at 11am, resumed at 11:40am, and were done by 2pm.  Roughly five hours of meeting and discussing could have probably been reduced to an hour.  I think there are two things that were working against us.  The first being, that I think this is the way that people here tend to have discussions.  The second is, that English is not a primary language for the Kenyan staff.  What may usually be a slow process becomes tedious due to a language gap.  That is not to suggest that the staff members do not have good English, they speak and understand very well.  Rather, I want to stress that it becomes harder to understand another person when he is speaking your second language.

Fortunately for us, today was market day in Malava.  I can't say that I love buying food fresh off the dirty ground, but market day is a fun experience when you consider the people you get to interact with.  Everyone wants to sell their goods to us, and everyone has basically the exact same food: potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and beans.  Some have exotic foods such as carrots, garlic, and mangos.  Now that I have a slightly better understanding of the value of the Kenyan Shilling, haggling is fun.  My approach is to find what I want, make a very low offer, get the counter offer, then say, "you might as well rob me for that price," and walk away.  This gives me both an idea of what the vendor wants for her item, but also usually leads to them making a sudden price drop as a start to turn my back.  It is a game that you have to play with the vendor to get the best price.  Despite my method, which I think works well, I joined Michael as he used his.  For it brought me great pleasure to watch him as he would walk up to a vendor with a 10 KSH piece and say, "I only have 10 shillings.  How many of these (pointing at whatever he wants) can I get?"  Every time he did this I could not help but turn away in laughter.  10 KSH is the equivalent to about 15 cents in USD.  For Kenya, it can get you two mangos or a couple of tomatoes.  10 KSH is not worth too much, so making an offer of only 10 KSH is ludicrous.  However, he was met with success as well when it came to making a deal. 

His greatest achievement, one which I hope to emulate, has been to get a pair of flip flops for 70 KSH.  As you all should know, I love flip flops.  They adorn my feet as often as possible.  The fact that I can get them so cheaply is titillating in of itself, but these are no ordinary flip flops.  The flip flops in the Malava market are hand made out of tire rubber.  How? you ask.  A man will fit the person by measuring his/her foot and then cuts out a sole from a car tire.  He then fashions straps. nails them onto the sole, and hands over a high quality pair of tire flip flops.  I swear that we will start a new fashion trend when we return.  I mean if people actually will go out and buy bags that are made out of car seat belts, tire flip flops will certainly become the Beanie Baby of 2010.

Side note - We began our countdown of the AFI top 100 movies of the past 100 years tonight in order from 100 to 1 (of the movies that I acquired ~90).  Tonight was disc 1 of number 100 - Ben Hur.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

No big plans tomorrow.  Gotta continue to examine and explore the town to get an idea of what is available.