yesterday i was reminded of a parade that leah and i embarked on several years ago in maine - it was to be a boat parade for the fourth of july, with all of the motorboats, canoes, and other flotation devices decorated festively. we missed the parade by a day (no one told us it was held on the 3rd!), and ended up parading around the lake by ourselves in the rowboat with a 6hp motor strapped on. needless to say, we didn't pull in the crowd we had hoped, in spite of the streamers we had attached to a stick. i was reminded of this incident as i biked between secondary schools yesterday, through parts of the village that are impossible to reach by vehicle; white people aren't often seen venturing to those parts of kenya. i was a sight to behold, apparently, a white man on a bike. a one man parade.
peace corps has this little policy of not allowing volunteers to travel outside of their sites for the first three months of service. that restriction ended for us at the beginning of march, so five of us decided to take advantage of our newfound freedom and take a vacation. if you haven't been reading my previous blog entries, living in kenya and taking a vacation may seem redundant. let me assure you, i don't think i have ever needed a vacation as much as i did two weeks ago. the stress of work, cultural differences, living alone, apathy, marriage proposals, heat...(i could go on forever) was manifesting itself through a deterioration in my physical and mental health.
four other volunteers and i headed for the coast - the indian ocean (my third of four). we arrived at our campsite on the kenya wildlife service campgrounds in malindi to discover a third-year peace corps volunteer living there - a retired engineer known to everyone as 'uncle joe.' i highly doubt any volunteer in the world has a better site than uncle joe. his house, which has running hot water, electricity, and a refrigerator, also comes equipped with glorious deck-side views of the sea. working for KWS also has its perks - he accompanies the rangers on their game control hunts to kill hippos, crocodiles, and other wild game that are bothering or mauling residents. his pictures and stories are the stuff of legend.
malindi itself is a small historically muslim city (as the swahili coast generally is) which is quickly being overtaken by wealthy italians, who are erecting luxury resorts like sand castles on the beach. the european influence gives the city a unique epicurean style, which combines african flamboyance with islamic reverence and western liberalism to yield a living, writhing, transient social being that easily embraces travelers and residents alike, as a home.
"they are brutal." obviously bush's military policies have been thoroughly reported by the kenyan media. another said the first thing he thought of when someone said 'america' was the war they had with the french. i asked them what we eat, which was received with a suppressed mischevious laughter. almost all of the students were in unison when they said "snakes." while they weren't entirely surprised to find out that i had never eaten a snake, they were flabbergasted when i told them that we don't eat maize or maize flour, probably the main staple of the east african diet. i talked with them about myself, - how old i was (they thought i was 38), how many siblings i had, that my parents were divorced - about virginia, about the peace corps. i asked them if they had any questions.
"are you married?" not yet.
"do you have electric trains in virginia?" i explained the DC metro system.
"what famous rappers do you know?" when i asked the querier the same question, he said 'lil bow wow.'
"does Texas have development?" ummm...yes.
"is schwarzennegger still governor?" yes, although he's not as popular as governor as we has in hollywood. (according to one boy, the most famous american is barak obama. his father emigrated from kenya. no one knows which state he represents or anything else about him, really, but if you order an “obama” in a bar, you’ll get a bottle of ‘senator’ lager.)
"do you have many niggers in the US?" this question caught me off guard, and the small boy in the front row whose feet didn't even touch the ground had to repeat his question several times before i understood that i understood the first time. none of the other students seemed to have a problem with his question, so I told them that ‘nigger’ is a very rude word in the US, at least when used by a white person, but that in the end what really matters is the intention of the person who uses the word (regardless, standing in front of a classroom full of black kids and using the word ‘nigger’ feels disturbingly illicit). I told him that yes, there are many ‘black people’ in america. I didn’t bother trying to explain ‘african-american’ to them.