Monday, August 11, 2014

Kenya: Kenya Life

There is no way to tell the whole story of any story. Words capture as much as an image at a moment in time. All the smells, sights, sounds, sensations, tastes and moods cannot be gathered into writing.

Such is true with gathering words to write about Kenya life. What was it like day and day out at MITS? Being submerged into a culture different than my own made for everything being worth noting. I even understood the people I knew from the states differently in Kenya.   Context can change the meaning of something that itself does not change. Weird, but true.

There are four things I want to share that were a constant experience in Kenya: weather, mobility, access, and time.

Weather: The weather is important no matter where a person lives, but I would argue that it is more important in Kenya than in the states. The reason has not so much to do with the weather, but rather than so much of Kenyan life is outdoors.

We were within about 100 miles from being on the equator. Prior to going to Kenya, my assumption was that being so close to the equator would mean being super hot. I geared up for it.  I had been to Ghana twice, about 300 miles north of the equator, and it was always hot there. However, where we were in Kenya was about a mile high in elevation. Mornings were cool, in the 50’s and days were warm, but not hot, in the high 70’s and maybe low 80’s.  Days run about 12 hours near the equator. Since we were south of the equator, it was technically winter in Kenya. Felt pretty good to me.

It rained once while we were there, which of course prompted a chorus of Toto’s 1980’s song, Africa, more than once. The rain was not a deluge as it was not rainy season, however, the rain mixing with the dirt there made for some of stickiest clay-mud I have ever experienced. Since all walking paths and roads at MITS (and everywhere) are dirt, there is no escaping the clay-mud when it rains. Yes, read NO SIDEWALKS.

The way that the mud-clay accumulated on the bottoms of shoes was extraordinary. It was not the sloppy mud that is so messy, but sloshes off after some accumulation. It was not clay that sticks, but might knock off. It felt as though with every step the mud-clay accumulated a little more with the end result being an every  increasing heel of some accidental Kenyan platform shoe.

When it dried, it wanted to solidify so hard as to  simply become part of your shoe. 

Getting around. There is more walking in Kenya than in the states. A lot more walking. I had a 30 minute walk to get from where I stayed to where I taught. Had I a car, I would have driven it. But no one does that. Long slow walks are part of the life in Kenya.  It was good as it provided opportunity for conversation and getting to know people.

In the states, 30 minute commutes are singular activities with radio too offset the solitude. I liked the rhythm of daily walks.

Driving was necessary in order to get into the city or run to the store for something that was not at any of the local vendors. And driving is terrifying. With random, massive, and unexpected speed bumps and humps, with driving on what I consider the wrong side of the road, with the aggressive passing, with all the honking and flickering of the headlights, with all the “overspeeding” (as they call it), and herky-jerky here and there, side to side, speed up fast and brake driving action, it is enough to make one never want to be  in a vehicle ever again.

Locks. Everything is behind a pad lock, gate and wall. Security is an issue. Poverty is just life. Taking what is not yours is not acceptable, but it is understood to be a common occurrence. The challenge with everything being behind a padlock is that most of the locked were key locks with a single set of keys – that were in someone else’s hands when you wanted them.

Not having access to the place you are staying can make for a great deal of insecurity, especially bathroom insecurity.

Time (now). Now is the time. Clocks, schedules, appointments, deadlines, and so many of the situations that time-obsessed Americans tether to the clock are not so much in Africa. Although the more westernized style of educated Kenyans does lean toward time-centered flow of the day, there is still a sense that there is Africa time – which is when it happens. Time is now. We are here now and that is what matters.

There are ups sides and down sides to this. Being present in the moment is easier as a Kenyan. There is less worry about the future as today is all that there is to deal with. Americans may view this as an unproductive way to go about living, and in some measures of American productivity, it is. However, what Americans lose in their ever time-conscious worldview is the moment in which they are living. This can come at a high cost with excesses resulting in regret.

Kenyan life and American life differ, sometimes greatly. I hope to capture being in the moment more now than I did before.

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