Haley: All roads lead to roam… NOT my house

September 9, 2010

I’ve had SUCH a great time the past week… that I can’t help but feel a little anxious for the upcoming one. Here’s a rundown:

September 4
The MSID crew had to wake up early to make an early arrival into Nairobi and meet our Host Families…  I was getting prepared to meet my new family for the new school year and living in a city I know NOTHING about. I suppose the only thing I can do is stay positive… Yeah well that positive attitude lasted all of five minutes as I discovered my laptop stopped working on me.

As I hit my mild freak-out moment over my wonderful laptop, one of the MSID staff took initiative to brighten my day: “you know Haley, from day one I noticed you like to talk alot…” (about to continue to talk but noticed the gaping look of shock on my face). Am I THAT obvious? “Oh!?… errrrm… Sorry?” I replied.
“Haha NO I’m not done!” (continues to laugh). “I was going to say, that from day one I noticed you like to talk, but MOST of all Laugh. And that’s a wonderful thing to see in someone. I think you’ll do just fine in life.”

I tell you, these Kenyans really know how to put things into perspective… because there I was moments before, freaking out about something so replaceable. Silly me. Now that my mind no longer has images of chucking my electronics out the window, I take in the beauty of the ride through the country. Through rural areas I would see people lightly blanketed in dust. Kids on the sides of the streets playing, and as if in trance, stop as soon a bus full of white people drive by. I can see in their eyes the curiosity of the lives we must have lived. Did we live in a house with running water… Was that water hot?… Did we sleep in a bed? Did that bed have a pillow? Do we eat till we are full? What land do we come from with clothes so rich in color and free of stains? How much money do we have on us this very moment? The gut wrenching part is that if you turn out my pocket, and theirs, you’ll find the same result: nothing. I have no money… Here I sit in clean clothes, hair scented of flowers, and a heart spilling with dreams. I’m on the path of taking, because my Country and the people in it allow me to. All I can offer is my smile… and even that seems to flash privilege as they marvel and comment on the work of my orthodontist and whiteness from my toothbrush. It is not a secret that the eyes are a window to the soul, and if you take the time to actually look someone in the eye, you will be left with a truth. These kids were nothing but honest.

Other than children, the sides of the roads were also filled with goats, donkeys, monkeys, cows… All just freely grazing the ground. At one point of the bus ride, I heard the faintest of a scream, almost a whimper. I turned around to see my classmate gawking out her window as a guy is hanging onto the ladder right outside her window. Com’mon now, the man’s just looking for a lift. When we stopped for gas, this woman came out of NOWHERE (which I’ve learned to get used to) selling these beautiful scarfs. I haggle with her and cut down the price to half and succeed in buying a scarf for 250 Shillings (around $3). In the US these scarfs would be about $30.

We finally arrive in Nairobi and I finally get to meet my host family! My Host-mom is AWESOME! She greets me with a smile that immediately warms me. My little host-brother is 10 years old and couldn’t be any cooler. Of course asking me question after question based off of American made films. LOVE that 10 year old innocence and curiosity. (Ma… skacai mauri). There was also their niece that was staying with them till boarding school. SUCH a sweet girl… My H-mom and I got to the mall shortly after our greeting; she had to pick something up. While waiting with here I notice a shop with the same type of scarfs I just bought… only these were 1000 shillings—over 200% more than what I paid for mine… because the mall we were in was considered a White-mans mall. WHAT a difference in Urban area’s from Rural.

When we get home I meet my H-dad and he’s the most smiling man I’ve ever met! Yup, this is a wonderful family! Upon discover of a crappy laptop (ahem), he told me to make use of theirs! My H-parents had to leave for some prior commitment, so I was left at home with my H-brother and H-cousin. As soon as I go to get on the computer the power goes out. YUP it was at this point I was convinced my fingers have the touch of death to any technology. So instead I sat and talked with my new sibling/cousin while drinking tea by candle light.

I started day dreaming when all of a sudden I came back to reality by hearing: “… causes a heavy flow?” Hah.. for a second there I thought my 16 year old H-cousin said ‘heavy flow’… Oh wait—What?! (how did she get to that point… and what the HELL was I thinking about that blocked out the majority of the prior conversation.) I just stared at her wide eyed trying to make sense of the question just asked (while also having a flashback to the movie ‘Mean Girls’). So of course the 9 year old comes out in me and I softly giggle. That came out of nowhere!!!  She read on my MSID profile that I was a community health major and figured she’d ask me health questions. Oh… well that sounds legit enough to me!

So whatever, I try and answer as many questions as I can for her, but also have to remind her I’m not an expert and certainly don’t know everything. It wasn’t until the question of condoms came up, that I was left a little baffled. (Oh yeah… sorry, but *safe sex* is a part of the health field, so my bad if this tidbit makes you feel weird.) “What is the point of a condom?” was the question. OH MY…  I swooped down on the question and answered with seriousness. A rare moment you’ll find me not joking. The follow-up question: “If one is on birth control, then they don’t need a condom right?” It was not just my H-cousin who did not know these answer, but her friends as well… oh dear. These questions quickly made me realize how much I value my education… and those stupid Trojan adds. I LOVED her honestly and was SO happy we talked. Because I know, as a 16 year old girl, there’s no such thing as a secret in high school. And this is DEFINITELY one conversation I WANT to be spread in the halls.

September 5
I wake up today… and go to Church. My H-dad is a Rev. at their church. Church-in-Kenya: Singing, LOUD, preaching, dancing, bright colors. And I thought having a priest speak in Greek was different! I actually enjoyed myself; it was an experience to say the least. When church was over I got up but was all of a sudden getting tugged on. I look down to find the most precious toddler looking up at me, pulling at my dress. Her mom informed me that her daughter wanted me to pick her up. As I did, she looks me straight in the eyes and all of a sudden smiles. My heart just melted. Her mom was amazed. She came over to try and get her daughter so they could finally go home. Nope. This little girl would not let go. Her mom started to laugh at this point. Stunned, she looked at me and said
“I can’t believe it… she normally doesn’t take to people easily!” This little Kenyan girl had lighter colored skin, so her mom joked some more and said
“She thinks she’s related to you!… You’re her sister… She’s never seen someone with light skin before.” So I now have a little Kenyan sister at the church my H-family goes to. My H-family gave me a phone today to use till I have to go back to the States. Wow… so incredibly nice. I also discover that not only do we have running water… but the shower runs hot. I am considered to be lucky.

September 6
Today was my first day of school (kind of). My H-mom drove me to class (and drew me a map so I could walk home). Instead of having class we took a “field trip” to downtown Nairobi… Can you say LOST!? As I’m following my MSID staff leader, I felt like a baby duck following its mama duck. It’s loud in the city so I can hardly hear my leader, and the accents here are sometimes a little hard to understand (like Eddie Murphy in ‘Coming to America’ which of course I had to bust out in once I got there. I love that movie.

The smog is TERRIBLE in the city and when a bus passes by, I swear I get high off of the smell of Gasoline. We’re about a mile up in altitude so the air is already a thin. Not to mention the dust I continued to taste. Much different than Chicago and New York. They drive on the opposite side of the road, and wow—I thought California Drivers we BAD! So I walk through the city aimlessly… as if I was spun around in the undertow, not knowing which way is up. So we finally go for lunch. Ther servings here are HUGE! The people in the city eat well my friends. As we leave the reastaurant, the owner stops me on the way out (MUST read with accent): “Where are you from?”
Me: “Oh! Ya, we’re from America!”
Owner: “They’re from America.” (pointing to my classmates)… “where are YOU from?”
Me: “uhhhhh…. America?”
Owner “No no my Friend! Surely you are from Europe. You look different than the rest of them.”
Me: “Oh? Why’s that?”
Owner: “You’re Skin… It’s much darker! Exotic even!”
Me: “Ohhhhhhh…. mmm Thank you?”
Owner: “You’re very-very welcome my European friend. Come back again!”

Strangest complement(?) I’ve ever gotten. After the city a few girls and I walk down to this huge store (kind of like Walmart). Oh and note that EVERYONE stares at you here because you’re white. So when I finally decide to walk home, I had no clue where I was. So I just started asking people (preferably women; my H-mom told me to only ask women, police, and guards). So I start walking to the direction of another “white mans” mall. From there I can read the map I was drawn earlier. I’m a little nervous because I feel the sun going down ever so slowly (I have about an hour befor dusk). I HAVE to be home befor nightfall, because it’s not safe to be out past 7. As I’m walking I become very aware of the color of my skin. I am now the Minority. I have to remember that no matter how unsure I am of where I am going… I have to walk confidently, like I’ve lived here my whole life. OWN IT!! I go down this one road that on each side has walls made up of scraps of metal from the junkyard and rust shacks. There are bonfires, people in dirty clothes (but also people dressed nicely), and it is FULL of men walking the opposite direction of me. Behind the metal scraps, there are beat up cars and people hanging out. I feel my face get hot. The one thing that calms me is mob-justice. Mob justice can be a scary thing though… If someone gets attacked or robbed or something in the streets, the surrounding people will attack that “bad guy” and sometimes it can even result in death. The Kenyans are sick of bad people like that, so I know when I walk in a busy area, the worse that can happen is me being pick-pocketed. I feel like I’m on the dirt road for HOURS! After feeling totally lost and NOT knowing which street to take anymore. I finally stumble across the familiar gate to my complex (all the complexes have gates and guardmen here). HOME AT LAST!

September 7
Today was a fun one. I couldn’t seem to make it out of the house without forgetting something. As I walked to school I thought I hear my name being called… I happen to run into an MSID classmate! So we walk together. Today was the start of Swahili. Honestly, I felt like Charlie Brown… What-the-HECK is my teacher saying? Waa-wa-waaa-wa-WHAT!? Theo mou…. no megusta.

Tea time at school was absolutely needed to calm my nerves. My classmates and I ended up laughing and just really enjoyed the Kenyan sun outside of the Lunch-Hut. I spent all of a dollar on my lunch which was enough to feed at least two. When school was out, a handful of us walked down the main road to go to the Uchumi (Walmart-like store). We decided to go to this HUGE market where you literally feel like you’re walking through these made up walls of clothe-lines, tarps, and just endless merchendise. I couldn’t get enough of this aspect of the culture. One thing thought is you have to make sure you have good hold of your belongings becasue this is a prime pick-pocketing place.

At the end of our adventure we went to a bar for a drink. Harmless girl time. I finally decided to leave, realizing I had at least a mile or so to walk. I’m telling you, EVERY wrong road to take I took. The sun is sinking lower in the sky, and I still have no idea where I am. I finally get out of this dirt path and came to a place full of lavish appartments. What-the-? How the heck do I go from Sketchland to Utopia? I walk down the road and pass two women… It didn’t take long for me to turn around and ask them for help.

Turns out that although these two women were Native Kenyans, the older one lived in Chicago for a while and then Boston! Her daughter Studied in India and England for the health field. I don’t know HOW I got there, or how I managed to get so lost, but after meeting them, I know my lack of direction was for a reason. The younger woman started talking to me about my aspirations and we discovered our field of work was practically the same. She insisted we keep in touch, especially when I go back to America and would love to do a project with me. How cool is that? She also wants me to take note of how poor the hospitals are in Mombasa. She ended up walking me home. Um yeah, I litterally lived one street over. Not even a block away. It’s safe to say I haven’t got lost since.

September 8
MOVE OUT OF THE WAYYY!!!! I’M GOING TO BE LATE!!!! Scrambling through my room—brush teeth—run down the stairs—was assured I had to eat breakfast—food stuck in throat—forgot my homework—back down stairs—forgot my malaria pills—back up stairs—about to leave…. My walk to school put those “6 am-mall-walking-grannies” to SHAME! “Walking with a purpose” as I like to call it. Oh wait, what’s this? Everyone came in late? Of course when everyone arrives you gotta play it cool and blame the persusive sweating on the heat—not from dodging cars, jumping sewers, or tightening your backpack like you did in Kindergarten. My first lesson about Kenyan time: It starts when the professor/professional gets there. Note taken.

Safe to say Kwahili wasn’t any easier today. I probably looked like a fish out of water while the professor was talking to me. That class was cut short because the head of the program informed us to go downtown to the University of Nairobi. It was there that I got to listen and see former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talk to the students about the new constitution passed in Kenya and her views on Democracy. Senator Tom Dashcle was there too. Safe to say I LOVED Albright, and I quote “I believe there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.”

Our days eneded in good spirits, ice cream, fresh fruit, and lots of laughter. I think I just might be getting used to this place. If you’ve made it this far in my readings, I thank you for your patience and devotion to my blog. It means a lot. I hope you continue reading.

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