Monday, December 22, 2008

Entry of Extreme Lateness

So...seeing as I haven't updated in eight years, I'm going to do some serious condensing of the last month. I'm avoiding the contemplativev last entry thing for next time, as this will get too long, but here's an update on life. It has certainly been a month.

1. Thanksgiving

We went to Tanzania over Thanksgiving weekend, giving ourselves the day off from school on Thursday, and in the process missing our last day of classes...good thing they were a waste of my time or I might feel bad.

The bus ended up taking six hours instead of four, but it was nice and clean and had no problems. We got there in time on Thursday to see the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) in session, which was really awesome. They allow you to observe the trials in waiting rooms off the side of the court room on headphones. It was just really cool to see it in actual practice.

The next day met up with Heifer International, an NGO that Allie works for in the States, and toured some of their projects in the Arusha area. It was also really cool. We drove probably half way up Mt Meru, the mountain on the skirts of Arusha to visit this women’s cooperative that received a dairy cow from Heifer about five years ago and now have four and are producing milk and cheese for the entire area. Everyone was just so happy and welcoming, and the area was so beautiful. All of the farming around was terraced in the mountains and there were banana tress everywhere and everything was green and lush and amazing. It was also just awesome to see what some people can do with a little push, such as a dairy cow. These women had gone from being unable to provide for themselves to having such a surplus that they had to start making cheese just to use all the milk. And all it took was a cow.

2. Finals
The week following Thanksgiving was not particularly fun. I was so tired by that point, that I had very little motivation to do anything at all, which was probably not a good thing. I think I did pretty poorly on everything I was tested on or turned in that week. I haven’t gotten any grades back, so it’s unclear, but it’s kind of worrisome. I’ve put it out of my head for the time being as I don’t want to be stressed on my vacation time, but I did extremely poorly on my Swahili final. I don’t even know what I would do about that, because it was such a bad class and the final was completely unreasonable. I hate that something that matters so little in my life, and helped me so little even in this semester could be so damaging to my GPA. It was partially my fault, I didn’t study enough, and I know that, but it was also a really poorly taught class, and a completely unreasonable final, and that irritates me. It’s done, and I’m not going to think about it now, but it is still really annoying.

3. The Coast

Then we left for the coast after a weekend of doing touristy things in Nairobi. I loved Mombasa. Part of it looked kind of like Nairobi but smaller and hotter, but when you went into Old Town it turned into this old crumbling Arabic city, with mosques everywhere and tiny winding streets and tourets on all the buildings. It was old and kind of falling apart, but beautiful and full of history and culture.

I also got henna done on both my hands and my feet, it was pretty exciting. Madelyn and I just asked this Muslim woman walking past us where she had gotten hers done and she lead us up to this woman’s house where we sat on the woman’s bed for two and a half hours and she hennaed our hands and feet. It was only 1000 shillings and there is so much of it. It’s on both sides of my hands and half way up my legs. It was really, really cool. None of them really spoke English or Swahili, I think they were Somali so they probably mostly spoke Somali, which was fun. They also had like 40 children who were all running around the whole time. It was definitely a cultural experience.

From Mombasa we went to Watamu, a town about two hours away. We stayed at this place called Turtle Bay, which was a beach resort, and was was definitely different from anything I’ve ever done. It was a full out beach resort, with free local alcohol, free buffet food all the time, free snorkels and sea kayaks, the ocean and a big fancy pool and pool side bar. It fulfilled all the stereotypes of a midrange beach resort, including being filled almost exclusively with white people, even though we were in the middle of East Africa. I think I saw more white people in those two days than I’ve seen in my entire stay in Kenya. It was trippy. The Indian Ocean was somewhat warmer than ideal and was decidedly wave free, but all the same it was still the ocean and therefore appreciated by default. We just laid out and enjoyed the water and the sun and all the free things to consume.

4. Uganda

For the last few days I've been in Uganda, which was also really awesome. We went whitewater rafting on the Nile, which was amazing. They were class four and five rapids so some of it was really freaking terrifying, but it was really fun. We camped over night and rafterd for two days with our own guide and rescuer kayakers all around in case we had trouble when we flipped or fell out…which happened four times. The flipping, not the trouble. Everything worked out really well.

And now I’m back in Nairobi for the next few hours before heading home. So I’m going stop this rather monumental book of an entry. I’ll be back in the US next time I write. Holy shit.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bikes, Women and Mosquitoes...Kisumu

I went to Kisumu this week with Shelter Forum, where I’m interning, which was generally pretty cool. I had some interesting cultural clash experiences but I’m still really glad I went. I didn’t see as much of the lake as I had hoped, but at the same time it wasn’t really supposed to be a vacation so I can’t complain. I did get to tour some of the projects that Shelter Forum is sponsoring which was cool. It got me out and about as well as able to see some of the more environmental projects they are working on. I toured this awesome recycling project called BaMaTo (a combination of the Swahili words for Father Mother and Child). They pay youth to gather plastics, then sort them and crush them. These pieces are then sold to manufacturers to recycle them. They don’t make a lot of money, but some anyway. They can’t recycle plastic bags so instead they are making pillows and mattresses out of them instead. They also make beads out of the recycled paper. Basically awesome. I also walked along a stretch of the Kisat River and leaned a lot about the pollution of the river and hence the lake, as it drains straight into Lake Victoria. It was nice to see things in person that I have been reading about in reports and grants.
There were so many bicycles there, it was so cool. They are called Bodabodas an dare basically used like taxis. There is a seat attached to the back and you pay the person to peddle you around. There were more bikes than cars by far. I really wanted to ride one, but never got the chance.
The whole reason I was there was to help out at a women’s forum that SF was sponsoring. Basically women have no rights at all to land. If their husbands die, they are forced off their land, their home is taken away, and they and their children are driven back to their parents, where they are often not welcome either. Their possessions are often taken as well and they are left with pretty much nothing. It basically sucks in all ways. There is anew draft land policy going to Parliament that, among many other things, attempts to deal with some of these issues, trying to at least give women rights on paper, which they legally don’t have right now. So they were holding a forum for women who were leaders in their community, to sensitize them to the issues so that they could go back and advocate for the passing of the policy. It was really exciting to see a room full of 60, empowered, strong women, together, dedicated to advocating for women’s rights. They were all strongly African, very connected to their community and culture, but this didn’t stop them from being strong women. People often assume that “rural women” are extremely disempowered and are dominated by a male culture; it was refreshing to see women that were clearly living a fairly rural life but were fighting hard and openly for their rights. They may not have them but they are willing to and actively demand them.
It was also really interesting to observe how people interacted with each other. It was really hammered home to me how important introductions and closures are in Kenya. Every time someone new spoke they introduced themselves and said what they were going to talk about. At the end, everyone was given a chance to speak and unlike in the US, many people took advantage of this invitation. Everyone wanted to greet and then thank everyone else. It as really interesting. Response was also a really important part of the conversation. Every single time that someone said “good morning” everyone said it back. Every time a speaker said “isn’t that right” there was a chorus of “yes.” I was just very different from conferences in the US that I’ve been to. I’m really glad I went.
Some really odd things happened too. Not huge things just a little awkward. By boss made several overtly racist things toward Indians, which was uncomfortable for me. It was Diwali on Tuesday so everything was lit up and celebratory, and she made this comment about how Hindus only go to temple at night. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but she continued to claim that the only type of person who would only set foot in their place of worship at night are devil worshipers, especially when all they do is chant. It was awkward in the extreme. We also had some confusion about where we were going to eat one evening, and first of all one of the other interns just sat down and ordered her food before the rest of the group was ready, which was kind of odd in the first place. But then when the rest got there, they actually wanted to go to another place so we were going to try to cancel her order. But they had already put it in so they said all we could do was take it to go. And everyone got all upset, as if that were a really rude thing to do, and how couldn’t they just give the chips to someone else, someone would order them soon, it wasn’t a big deal. But really that’s not something you do; once you’ve ordered, it’s completely legitimate to say that you have to pay for it. And it just got more awkward. They basically picked a fight with the waiter, and then asked to be served by someone else. At which point our food took like half an hour to arrive. I felt like such an idiot.
Overall though it was really good, despite the weirdness. I forgot bug spray and therefore got eaten alive by mosquitoes which was really unfortunate. Thank goodness for malaria medications, my spleen is probably full of Malaria right now...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Long and Overdue....oops

We went to this second hand market on Saturday, which was pretty much heaven. I didn’t get that much there, and I probably paid too much for things, but it was fun anyway. I got a skirt that I’ll be able to wear this weekend when we go to Kitui which is very rural and pretty conservative. And then I got a purse, that I’ve been needing pretty much since I got here. It’s pretty big and zip and stuff, so I don’t have to take a backpack places anymore. I don’t like backpacks because you can’t see them when you walk, so anyone can come up behind you and get into the pockets. I walk with mine on one shoulder which makes it a lot safer, but it’s just annoying, This one I have across my body and it zips and has a flap over the zip, so there is little to no chance anyone could get into it without me noticing. It just makes me feel a lot more secure. But there were just piles of clothes there. A lot of the shirts were 100 shillings which is about $1.40. You can’t really beat that. There was a lot of stained stuff, so you’d have to be careful, but there was a lot of really nice stuff too. It was exciting. I definitely want to go back.
I also had my first encounter with tear gas, which is actually apparently rather common here. We were walking through the market and suddenly our throats and eyes starting hurting and noses started stinging and running. We asked someone what it was and apparently the police had sprayed tear gas near there a bit before to try to remove the hawkers that didn’t have licenses to vend. It must have been a lot worse a bit earlier, but even so it still hurt. It also made me sneeze a lot too, which I thought was bizarre. I guess it’s your nose’s response to having something painful in it, it runs and tries to get you to sneeze it out. But other than that part, the experience was pretty fun. I’m sure they inflate prices like all kinds to white people, and I could probably have gotten things cheaper, but I got an unstained linen skirt for $4. I’m not going to complain. When push comes to shove, I can afford to pay more than the average person shopping there, so if they get a little more money off me than someone else, I’m kind of ok with that. I bargained down to what I thought was a reasonable level and that’s good for me.

It has been a while since I wrote anything. I guess I’ve been feeling a little too overwhelmed to even get my thoughts down on paper. Life is just really freaking overwhelming here, there’s really no other way to put it. School is getting pretty intense, which is kind of acceptable, but somehow I’m much less prepared for it to be this stressful. At school I accept that I’m busy and working pretty much all the time, and most of my weekend days are spent doing work. Both Saturday and Sunday mornings are pretty much all homework all the time during this time at AU. But here it is just so much harder to deal with. I’m having a hard time differentiating what part is me being lazy and what part is me being overwhelmed by life. On the one hand it is true that I really don’t have much time during the week. Going to class and internships takes a lot more of my time here than it does in the US. Transportation is a big hassle. But on the other hand, I do have some time. I have this morning, for instance, which could be used to study Swahili and instead I am writing in my journal. But when I start doing work, I just get so bogged down in the sheer amount of work I have to do that I just can’t continue. This has never really happened to me before. I just sit there and look at all the work I have to do, unable to begin any of it. It’s really bad. I'll get it together I'm sure, I just have to buckle down. This weekend is a work weekend.
I’ve decided that my life here is modeled on a pendulum. I am very rarely in a balanced, stable state of mind. I go from periods of ‘holy shit, I cannot deal with life and how much time it takes to get nothing done, please just end this now,’ followed closely ‘holy shit, I can’t believe I am still in Africa, look at me I’m sitting in traffic in tiny hot, cram-filled public bus, IN AFRICA. How can I be a person lucky enough to be having this experience?’ It’s all very confused; there’s definitely time where I’m not at those extremes, but generally that’s just when I’m in denial and too busy just getting through the day to even think past the ordeal of getting home or some such thing. It’s kind of exhausting.
We had a little bout of relaxation this weekend, which was definitely needed. We went out to Kitui, which is a very rural, very dry area of Kenya, about three and a half hours outside of Nairobi. It was nice to get away for a while, even though it was pretty uneventful. The dryness kind of reminded me of home. The sun was really really intense. I got sunburned in the 20 minutes that I was outside before I put sunscreen. It was nice to feel heat like that again, it was very familiar. We stayed in this village-experiment type thing that was started by an NGO to give children whose both parents have been killed by AIDS. grandparents and foster grandparents live pretty much exclusively in this village, and they raise a whole ton of children. And even cooler, they are like uber sustainable. All their electricity (which is extremely limited admittedly) is solar, they recycle all the waste from their toilets into manure for their certified organic fields, where they grow like 70% of everything they need. And on top of all of this awesomeness, they also had these super crazy dam things that raise their water table and protect them from the droughts that happen like every other year. They put this little wall of concrete in river that only runs when it rains. But when it does rain, sand builds up behind the wall and water can seep into the collected sand, and it keeps a small fraction of the water from washing downstream. Instead it seeps down through the sand and raises the water table. Being the awesomely cool person that I am, I was pretty excited. They didn’t look like anything, just a wall and a lot of sand, but they were awesome nonetheless. I took a picture for Dr. B, my water resources professor. I might send it to her as a post card, not going to lie. So that was pretty cool. The rest of the village was pretty uneventful, we just sat around a lot and chilled with the children and the old grandmothers, very few of which spoke any English or Swahili. They all spoke Camba, which is the native language there. It was nice in general. People were rather unhappy with the squat toilets I think, but as far as squat toilets went, they were pretty nice. I was impressed. I’m glad we went away for the most part. Part of me wanted to go somewhere more touristy and fun as one of our two program paid for trips, but at the same time I did learn a lot and saw a part of Kenya that I had never really seen before so that was good. It made this week kind of stressful, but the weekend was relaxing for the most part.
Getting there was kind of an adventure. We took a country bus, which entailed showing up at a really overwhelming bus depot and then waiting for an hour and a half for our bus to fill up, because they have no leaving time, just when the seats are filled. The same happened on the way back except we had to sit by the side of the road for two hours waiting for a bus to pass. Good experience, though, because we want to take some long buses other places, and now we know how it works more or less. It’s still kind of scary, but we have more experience. Back to the grindstone now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

So apparently my last entries have been kind of extremely negative, which implies that I’m hating it here, which I would like to correct. I am not hating it here, I’m not even disliking it here. I just feel that liking and disliking things at this point isn’t even really the issue, and so I can’t say that I’m loving it here either. I’m loving this experience, overall, I think, but do I love Nairobi, do I think it’s the greatest place on earth? No, of course not. That is not to say that there aren’t some crazy awesome things that happen here, but on the whole this city is basically nuts. But I didn’t expect to fall in love with Nairobi, at least not within the first month of being here. I think you can come to love a place like this, despite all of its faults, but the fact that it is the faults that stand out first to you makes it hard to have a romantic vision. I love that people are so kind here, no matter how stupid you look. I love that a nice Indian mad bought some stuff at the store for me, saying only that some day I would meet him again and do something nice for him. I love that everyone from the rich elite to the poorest of the poor have an intense pride in where they live, and where they are going. I love that this city exists for Kenyans, not for tourists, and that everyone is here to live their life and just get on with it. I love that American chains are virtually non existent here, and that I won’t see a starbucks cup for the next three and a half months.

I don’t love Nairobi per se. The fact that I can’t walk outside at night, and can’t get away from the smell of burning trash, and have to throw away aluminum cans for the first time in probably my life, and get hit in the legs by beggars just because I’m white and won’t give them money makes love at first sight hard. But I didn’t expect it to be easy, and I didn’t expect this to be Europe. All things considered, I’m still in fucking Africa, and despite the fact that I’m not eating bread at a street cafĂ©, or dressing up for the horse races or going to wine tastings at the vineyards, I’m in the birthplace of man. I’m a true minority for the first and probably last time in my life, and I’m seeing humanity in a way that no one who hasn’t been to Africa can really understand. And really, that’s what being abroad is about, not loving every moment of it. Hating some moments of it is ok too, especially when you’re observing and participating in (somewhat) a life that is hard in pretty much every way conceivable. So if this journal is sometimes negative, it’s just what is on my mind while I write. I don’t hate my life, so don’t worry.

In other news, I did get to be in the same room as Rialo Odinga, the Prime Minister of Kenya, as part of my internship the other day. Not that I had anything to do with it, but we went to this housing site that the government is building to try to upgrade Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, and he was there to make a goofy speech and look at the site. He just made a politician speech and smiled and left, but it was still pretty cool. Very different than American politics. First of all, he just came with a couple security guards and they stayed on the side, not really doing much, while this horde of people, mostly residents of Kibera, surged around him cheering and yelling. No one like that would ever be allowed within 500 yards of the President of the United States. It was kind of nuts. But cool.

We’re going to Masai Mara this weekend, which is the famous game preserve in Kenya. We’re only going for three days, but really how much animaling can you do before you get tired of it. It’s during the migration period of the wildabeasts, which is apparently something amazing to see, as hundreds of thousands of them migrate across Kenya at this time of year. So hopefully we can see some cool things. Either way, it will be an excuse to get out of Nairobi, which will be really nice. I’m getting a little claustrophobic, being in the city 24/7. I’m seriously glad that we have a quiet, secluded kind of apartment building that we can retreat into, when the bustle and loudness of the city starts to get to you. After spending hours just trying to get from once place to another, it’s nice to just be able to walk into a gated, relatively quiet environment and just relax on the couch. I’m pretty admiring of people who do homestays in places like this. While it would add a lot to your experience, and in some ways I think it would be a lot cooler in the end, I think this month would have been exceedingly harder had I been required to come home to another unfamiliar, kind of stressful environment. Because no matter how nice a family is, interacting with adults that are very culturally different and you really want to impress and not offend in any way is just tiring, especially when you’re already completely overwhelmed by your environment as it is. It must be really hard.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I can't be bothered to edit this Sep 2-9

We started classes today, which was kind of a complete disaster, in all honesty. I have faith that this will all get better, and it will all work itself out in the end, but today was extremely overwhelming. I basically was out for nearly 10 hours, and had one hour of class in which we went over the syllabus. It was kind of a complete waste of my life. Transportation is such a mess. The USIU bus was late, because apparently the bus broke down or something. So I waited in town for over an hour for the bus. Then when I got to school, my first professor straight up didn’t show up, so the class just left after 40 minutes or so. So I sat around for another hour and a half before my second class. Which seems like it will be ok. Some review of some basic envs stuff, but also some more econ stuff which actually looks interesting. I found it rather hard to understand people, they have such thick accents, which I wasn’t expecting for some reason. I should have been, but I just wasn’t. My professor was pretty understandable though, so that was good. It was a really strange class environment though. For having such a culture of respect of elders, the students were surprisingly rude to our professor. She seemed used to it, but they just up and told her that her weighting of assignments was unacceptable and she needed to change it. In the US, that would be completely out of line in every way. If the professor says that the four quizzes are worth 20% then they are, no questions asked. My whole class basically commented and criticized her choices. It was strange.
The commute home was even more of a disaster. My class gets out pretty late, so I didn’t get into town until about ten after six. Then I got lost trying to find the matatu stage back to Westlands. Fortunately this nice man helped me out and told me where to go and I got on. But the matatu took this crazy route trying to get around the traffic jam, just called the Jam here, and I got confused. So I thought that they said it was my stop when it wasn’t so I got off and had no idea where I was and by that time it was dark and seven o’clock. I fortunately found some nice security guards who called a cab for me, though he charged me $300 shillings just to get back to Njema Court. And on top of that just as we were going up the road home, his car stalled…on a hill, so we rolled backwards for a while, as he tried to get his car to start, which it wouldn’t for three or four minutes. Finally, I got home at 7:30. I finished my class at 4:30. My commute was four hours long! I had one hour of class and eight and half of transportation. Which was really stressful as well as being annoying. The USIU part, and really the whole commute in was fine. I got on the first matatu just fine and made it to Givangi Gardens, where we get picked up. But the trek home was seriously horrible. I was just really nervous the whole time. Not knowing how to get home, and it getting dark, and then getting off at some place in the middle of Westlands, where all the shops were closed and I had no idea how to get home. I came home and cried. It wasn’t the worst thing ever, it all ended up ok, I am home and I made it through the day which is all that really matters. And next time I will know more about how to get places, and hopefully get less lost. That way I can walk home instead of having to take a five or six dollar cab ride. It was nonetheless, a really stressful experience. I’m looking forward to being more comfortable with my surroundings.

We visited five of the internship sites today. They all seem pretty interesting. I think I’m going to have a hard time deciding where my top choices are going to be. There are so many cool programs out there that I’d love to learn about and help out with, but I can only do one of them. We went to this orphanage that was seriously the cutest thing I have ever seen. There were so many small children. It was strange though, apparently they are all Muslim, which I guess isn’t really that surprising seeing they were in Eastleigh, a very Muslim part of Nairobi, I just didn’t expect it. We were visiting during Ramadan, so they were fasting, except for the children under ten apparently, but the guy showing us around made it seem like absolutely everyone in the orphanage over ten was required to fast. Definitely different than an American orphanage.
Eastleigh is definitely a very different place. Apparently it is made up of predominantly Somali immigrants, and is like the hub of blackmarket trade in drugs and guns. Cheerful I know. Just to add some harsh reality to the day, Chrissie, one of the girls in the program, had a necklace she was wearing (admittedly something we were told not to do) stolen, ripped straight off her neck as she walked down the street. It was kind of chilling. We had been told that pickpockets were everywhere, especially in places like Eastleigh, but experiencing it was another matter. I was walking right behind here, and I didn’t even notice anything until she stopped and said someone stole her necklace. Which brings up another tidbit of information we learned from orientation. Apparently, due to the complete lack of police follow up in claims of theft, the people are really fed up with petty thieves. So when someone yells thief in a crowded area, people tend to take matters into their own hands and attack the thief. So if someone steals your crappy watch and you yell thief, in can lead to someone dying, people going into a frenzy and even rioting. All over a stupid watch. What a crazy situation.

Then today we went to probably the worst play I have ever seen in my entire life. It was supposed to be a comedy about the student strikes that apparently happen here a lot, but it was one of the most incomprehensible, unfunny things I have ever seen. A little bit of it was that the accents made the whole thing really hard to understand, but for the most part, things just had no order to them, or were just not funny. For instance, there was basically a rape/harassment scene between a student and teacher, that I guess was just to indicate the corruption in the school scene, but ended with a joke and people laughed…it was seriously not funny at all, this poor girl got molested, how could that possibly be funny, at all? And then it was never mentioned again, and apparently had not point in the plot progression at all. Quickly following that, there was a long conversation between a teacher and the head cook about how the teacher’s cousin had once had him look through a key hole at someone’s wife masturbating with a banana, and how awesome and cool it was…again with little purpose to the supposed plot, which really in the end didn’t exist at all. It was seriously horrible. If there had been an intermission, which by the way there wasn’t in this two hour play, I would have been sorely tempted to leave. It was that bad.

I have never experienced such intense traffic in my entire life. It rained yesterday pretty hard, and we were stuck in traffic for like an hour and I thought it was bad, but nothing compared to today. Apparently rain just completely incapacitates the entire city, it is nuts. Lynsey, our program director, says that a big part of it is that people who don’t normally drive all bring out their cars when it starts to rain, and in a city with roads already filled to the breaking point during rush hour, this creates traffic jams. And then people aren’t smart about it and block intersections due to the complete lack of traffic lights or stop signs or anything, and you get pretty much complete city-wide gridlock. We had our first Kiswahili class today, and fortunately we walked there, or else we probably wouldn’t have made it at all. It took Lynsey two hours to get, literally, a grand total of seven or eight blocks. I’ve never seen anything like it, just due to a rain storm that wasn’t even that torrential. It rained hard for about half an hour, and it was a lot of water, but nothing so large that one would think it would be the sole cause of complete shutdown. It was just complete craziness. Other than that Kiswahili seems like it’s going to be pretty cool. I’m excited to have a class that is going to be challenging, and that I’ll be able to use in everyday life. I’m always pretty accepting when I hear that classes are going to be a breeze but it always ends up pissing me off more than I anticipate. You’d think I would have learned by now that nothing irritates me more that pointless wastes of my time, but somehow I didn’t expect it from university classes, despite the warning. Not that it’s all bad, and they could still get better, but it’s also just the whole…learning environment, as goofy as that sounds. It seems like a small detail, but I think it all pretty much boils down to the fact that on the whole, students seem to be fairly disrespectful to both the professor and the idea of education in the first place. People are outwardly rude, questioning the professor’s authority, talking back, constantly whining to be let out early, to receive special treatment, to not have to do the minuscule, insignificant amount of work required beyond just showing up to class. I feel like I’m a freshman in high school again, and all the kids who are going to drop out by the end haven’t yet, and you have to deal with them all the time. It’s aggravating.
The commute is getting a lot better. Now that I’m used to where things are, and I’m more confident about riding matatus I actually enjoy being by myself in the city. You’re much less of an eyesore, when there’s only one of you, even when compared to two. When it’s just me getting on, the drivers don’t even really look twice at you, which is a nice change. I think I’m also just getting used to the staring, and I notice it less as the days go by.

Monday, September 1, 2008

First week

So I really want to get into the habit of writing about things, because if I don’t, I know that I will regret it. I have now been here almost an entire week, and yet somehow it seems like I’ve been here a lot longer. This is pretty much the first time that we’ve had any time to just sit and adjust, which has been kind of stressful. But probably good. The city is absolutely enormous; it just goes on and on and on. But it isn’t the same as a western city, in that people are growing corn in the medians of the highways, and there are these strange pockets of extreme poverty packed in with the secure compounds and mansions. It’s really strange to be living in this nice, furnished, secure apartment that is large and spacious that has three bedrooms and four people, and where people clean and do your dishes for you, and then to look out your bedroom window to see the two men who basically live across the wall of our apartments under a tree with some blankets. I really think they’re living there…permanently. This type of wealth disparity is apparent pretty much everywhere you go in Nairobi, and it’s pretty odd. Not that that kind of imbalance doesn’t exist in the US because clearly it does, but not on the same level.

USIU has a really beautiful campus, which is going to be a welcome change from the city, I think. Maybe the classes aren’t really up to snuff, but if for no other reason, I think it will give us all a quiet refuge other than the apartments that will break up the insanity of life in Nairobi. I really hope that these are good classes, even though the opinion seems to be otherwise. I’m interested to hear the Kenyan perspective on economics and resource management. They certainly have to think about it in a really different light. I’m actually really excited about classes and school actually starting again. I think that the last week has been so crazy because we’ve been pretty much all experience all the time, and we’ve been out and going and watching, with this onslaught of sensory information, and it’s been understandably kind of dizzying.

Orientation has just been exhausting. I knew that security was going to be an issue, but I guess I just hadn’t really thought it through. I have class until 5:10 pm twice a week and it’s going to be a mad dash to see if I can get home via public transportation before the sun goes down and it’s not safe for me to be on a Matatu (think insane African taxi-bus). If I’m late for some reason, I’ll have to take a cab because we’re not allowed to walk outside, anywhere, at night. The sun sets at like 6:30 here so anywhere you need to go after that must be done by cab. Which isn’t as big a deal here as cabs are only a few dollars, but that adds up in the end. I think we’ll end up doing all of our errands in the day time if we can and only using cabs to go out on weekends. Which really isn’t so different than my life at school, really I don’t walk too many places at night on weekdays, other than on campus, but the fact that I’m not allowed to due to safety is just really unnerving. It will take some getting used to. A lot of our discussion during orientation was about security in one way or another. What we as women need to know, what we as white people need to know, as foreigners, and just as people in Nairobi. How to use public transport safely, what to look out for, what to do and what not to do. I think they did a pretty good job of preparing us; the fear factor might have been laid on a little think at times, but I think it’s better to be a little too wary than not wary enough. I don’t think it scared anyone to the point of being incapacitated, so we’ll just all be extra careful until we have more of an understanding of how things really work.