Sunday, October 16, 2005

eye candy

'i am a man who likes sex and would like to meet a woman. she should be sexy. i am intelligent ,cool.' i'm sitting in a computer lab in machakos, a city north-west of kitui, and as i was preparing to type the title of this post, that sentence appeared in the recently-entered text box. i figured it was an enlightening insight into the mind of a kenyan. i apologize for not posting sooner, the internet access in kitui is extremely unreliable and has been down for at least a week. things have been going well for me, in spite of frequent bouts of homesickness i have managed to learn a lot about myself and kenya as well. the following is a synopsis of my daily routine, with slight variations depending on the day and scheduled activities.

7:00am wake up
7:15 bathe - my mama says 'jonny, may i have your basin?' as soon as i come out of my room, and she fills it with water that she has heated up over a wood fire. i never really look forward to bathing like i looked forward to showering back home, it is more of a chore that i know needs to be accomplished. i basically squat in my little concrete bath box and splash water on myself.
7:45 eat breakfast and drink an entire thermos full of tea - my mama usually prepares three butter-and-jelly-on-white-bread sandwiches for me, accompanied by two liters of 'chai' (swahili for tea).
8:30 language class. lasts til 11, and it is held in the house directly across the road from me, in sheila's (another volunteer) homestay. there are three of us that have the class together, as we're split up into clusters. while i have been learning a lot, the pace of the class is fairly slow - i tend to grasp vocabulary and grammar concepts a little sooner than the other two in my class, and even my teacher mentioned that i tend to zone out often during the two and a half hour session.
11am cross-cultural - this is where we assess our knowledge of our own cultural background and contrast it with that of kenya. it can occasionally be an eye-opening experience and regardless, it provides us the opportunity to discuss stereotypes and ideologies with our kenyan trainers.
1230pm lunch - four days of the week we are supposed to get lunch on our own, so we go into town and eat at one of the hotels. a hotel is any place that serves food and has a bathroom; most of them don't have rooms for rent. whereas eating out in the US is a treat, an opportunity to satiate your varied culinary desires, in kenya the food at restaurants is exactly the same as the food prepared at home. the food they eat here is incredibly high in starch, which is why most female volunteers end up gaining weight during their service while the male volunteers lose it. some food staples: chapati (wheat flour, salt, water, and a lot of vegetable oil, rolled out and fried, kind of like a thick tortilla), ugali (corn flour and water, served in big white chunks. tasteless gruel.), rice. one of the three of these is always served usually in combination with sukumawiki (chopped kale, fried in pounds of vegetable oil), beef stew, or cabbage. the meat they eat is incredibly tough and chewy - every table at every hotel has a toothpick dispenser, which the kenyans use religiously, a habit that most volunteers have also adopted. they are extremely useful for getting goat tendon dislodged from between teeth.
1:30-4:30 technical training - i am working in the small enterprise development/ information communications technology sector of the peace corps, and the fifteen or so of us meet daily to discuss business concepts and ideas in kenya with our technical trainer, george, who is a 30-something year old resident of mount kenya (he's never climbed it, and why would he? most new yorkers have probably never been up the empire state building). a lot of the volunteers are frustrated easily by george, whose laid back personality prevents him from showing up for meetings on time or generally getting anything done. kenyan time is different from american time, as it is not rude to show up a half hour or even an hour late to group meetings. personally, i think most of the volunteers have expectations that were set a little too high - the peace corps is, after all, a government agency, and has to wade through all of the bureaucracy that entails. last week we were each assigned to a "business" in kitui that we would be working with during training - there are five of them, and we're working with them in the same clusters that we study language with (which is horrifying for at least one of the volunteers who hates her language group). my group's business is called Kyanika (pronounced chanika) Adult Class. it is really more of a knitting circle than a business - the only money that the group's 26 members (all but three of whom are women) receive is a 1000 shilling bonus at christmas time. that amounts to about $13. they have a tree nursery, they sell seeds, and they sell gourd crafts that they make. we have identified certain areas in which they need advice and training, and will be holding training seminars for them in order to hopefully increase the profitability of their economic endeavors.
6:30 curfew - i have to be at home by this time, sunset, since they don't like volunteers walking around after dark alone. there are no street lights, anywhere. the moon, however, is intensely bright most nights such that a flashlight isn't even required. the night sky of kenya is absolutely gorgeous; unpolluted by light, the brilliance of the stars can be seen in a way that isn't possible in america. i've spent long periods of time just standing outside after sunset, stargazing.
7:30-9:30 dinner - somewhere in this time window my mama serves dinner, which consists of one of the dishes that i mentioned earlier. every volunteer's favorite food, almost without exception, is chapati. i think all of us have sworn off of ugali - it is very unappealing.
9:30-10 bedtime - i usually spend about half an hour to an hour in bed after dinner reading by the light of my headlamp.

i hope that gives you some idea of what i do here.

many people have expressed their envy of my opportunity to experience a slower-paced lifestyle; on most levels it is incredibly relaxing and enjoyable. however, people often fail to realize the reality of the situation, that it isn't by choice that kenyans, or africans, or other citizens of developing countries live this way. given the choice, the vast majority of them would choose an american lifestyle over their own - that of consumption, of materialism, of leisure pursuit. this is evident in their fascination with and dependence on the few technologies that they can afford (cell phones, tvs, watches, etc.). it is only their poverty that precludes them from 'enjoying' our posh lifestyles.

through development discussions that i have engaged in here, i have also realized that as important as sustainable third world development is, equally as important is american development. to develop kenya in a manner that mirrors that of the us would be to fail. if every chinese citizen used the same amount of energy as the average american, the entire oil reserves of the world would be depleted in a day (newsweek). this type of wasteful behavior is not sustainable, and sustainability is an integral part of development that can't be ignored. if americans don't focus on modifying their own consumption to a sustainable level, all of the education and aid given to the rest of the world will be for naught. just a thought.

countdown to operation goat kill: 5 days.

i'm jonny

1 comment :

  1. Anonymous2:29 PM


    -veej (previously aspiring to new york city, but now reconsidering)


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