Africa Day Two
Jet lag is a big problem for me. It takes me a week or more to overcome. I can go to sleep at eight at night, wake up at two in the morning go back to sleep at four or five, wake up at noon and crave a nap by five in the afternoon. As I have previously mentioned it also makes the ground squishy for awhile, a feeling I quite enjoy. It feels like walking in one of those moonwalk things that they have at carnivals.
As I said previously, I woke up with dawn. Since people keep their own livestock here, the dawn was announced by the crowing of the roosters. What I didnít mention was that after a restless hour or so I went back to sleep for a couple more hours. I may have spoken to some of you about the anti-malarial drug Larium before I left. For those that havenít heard, Larium is one of a couple of drugs that can help you from getting malaria. Itís a brand name, I donít quite remember the chemical name. Side effects include intense nightmares, psychotic episodes, and mood change, but these occur in a very low percentage of people. . I took Larium for a couple of weeks in October on a trial basis to see I would have any of the serious side effects. I didnít have any problems until the tail end of the third week, when I started to have increasingly paranoid dreams. I donít get them every night, but I do get them from time to time. Mostly they are of scary subjects, but donít leave me genuinely frightened. Only once or twice did I actually think someone was at the door coming in to try and kill me when I woke up. And the snakes, always with the damn snakes. Deadly cobras everyone of them. I wish I hadnít seen Raiders of the Lost Ark so many times when I was a kid. AnywayÖ this night it was just the zombies that were after me and when I woke up they were gone, so the beginning of the day wasnít so terrible.
Did I mention that we sleep in mosquito nets?
Itís pretty darn cool, kind of like sleeping in a comfortable breezy tent.
Hereís a mighty cool looking picture that Kim took unbeknownest to me. Youíll have to believe me that I am wearing a pair of shorts in this picture.
Enough of all this stuffÖHereís the interesting stuff:
We went in to the city today. For me this was a really big deal. It is very easy when you are sitting around the house to forget where you are. The more enclosed the room, the less of a view out the window you have, the more normal things seem. Itís just as if Kim and I are sitting around the table in Ann Arbor talking after dinner, rather than Kenya. But you canít do that if you are in the city. I can already tell that I am going to have to concentrate on going out, as it was difficult for me.
We left the house at about noon walking towards town. We arenít really very far away at all, maybe a twenty minute casual walk. It was difficult just walking in one way for me. After all, as a passenger protected by the frame of the car I was still afraid for my life. It seemed no stretch of the imagination for one of the cars that was zipping by to clip me or Kim en route. It was quite distracting. As I have said the roads were also fairly crowded with pedestrians. Kim says that during the week it is a lot more crowded. It turns out that it is also a holiday weekend being Kenyan independence day (Jamhuri Day) on Sunday, so many Kenyans and most of the resident aliens are on holiday.
I going off track to avoid something a little bit here. Iíd best come out and say it: I was quite uncomfortable walking around town. Kisumu is not a little village. It has most modern amenities, it has decent (for Africa) roads, it has steady electricity, in short, it is a small African city. But by American standards the people here are so poor. I felt so embarrassed to be rich. I have never really felt rich before. I mean, I have felt pretty well off before; I have never wanted for anything material. I have never felt affluent before. I donít care for it very much.
It was hard to look people in the eye.
Kim said, "Jambo"(hello) to some of the people we passed and several of them responded. Several didnít. I didnít feel like people were particularly glad to see us. I had the distinct impression that there was a negative to neutral reaction from most of the people we saw. In the short time since this I happened I have thought about it a great deal and here goes:
I think that these two things, the feelings of being rich and of not be liked, are going to the most difficult aspects of living here for me. The heat I can deal with, itís no worse so far then Michigan in August. The food has been pretty good so far, I have found a couple of things that I like and that is pretty much all I have ever needed. The housing situation is better than I could have imagined, I donít really feel the sting of leaving the worldís greatest apartment at all (although I still think the spiral staircase was pretty cool)
But, I feel bad when I go out in public. I know this will get easier eventually, but in the meantime itís hard.
One of the offshoots of this is that I donít know if I will be able to photograph or video any of this. Right now I canít imagine doing it, it would just be too rude. Maybe when Iím more comfortable or know more people Iíll be able to do it, but for nowÖI just canít. Iíll take pictures on safari, of landscape and so forth, but I donít know that I can take pictures of people and how they live. I donít know if I can properly explainÖ.I just feel so set apart from everyone here already, by skin obviously, but more importantly by wealth, and I donít want to behave like a rude tourist in a place that Iím going to be living for some time. I guess the longer I live here the more right I feel that I have to picture what would be my home also.
Iíve never felt this way before. When I lived in Japan I never would of thought twice of taking a picture of something. Not to perpetuate stereotypes or anything, but more likely than not if I was going to take a picture of something in Japan, then I would have to wait in line behind half a dozen Japanese people already taking the same picture. Just today I took a picture for a couple of African guys on the lake (which Iíll leave for another day) and that was great.
We walked around for some time. We walked down the main road, Oginga Odinga Road (donít you love that name, it rolls off the tongue marvelously). Although I havenít been there since I was very young, the town reminds me of Mexico. The streets are very wide. Everything is dirty and run down, but functional. People are selling things on the sidewalk. There are taxi stands with beater cars and cardboard taxi signs. There are beggar boys and madmen. Handpainted signs advertising televisions, bicycles, religion, and haircuts. Photocopying is apparently a growth industry here, there are signs for it up and down the street.
And there are people everywhere. Kim pointed out that itís not necessarily that there are more people than there are in an American town, itís just that most of them arenít using cars. They are walking around town, and around their neighborhoods. Both activities which donít happen in an American town, or at least not in the same numbers. We Americans, I think, spend quite a bit of time in our houses, in communication with others mainly through television and the internet. Maybe that is overstating things a bit, but I canít get over the contrast with the number of people out and about here.
We walked down to a real market. I have never experienced anything like it. It looks, smells and sounds exactly like you thing it would. There are hundreds of people selling things, from fruits to vegetables to plastic bags, from little roadside shacks or on cement counters under a large tin roofed market building. When we walked the merchants would get up off of their little stools or the ground and start in on us.
"Hello! How are you?" "Pineapple? Good Pineapple!" "Papaya? Papaya?"
We looked around and bought some rather wilted looking lettuce, some oranges, some pineapple, and some little strange bananas called "Sheet" (which, we discovered later, was not a misnomer) At each of these stops we, and by we I mean Kim, negotiated over the price. They try to overcharge everyone, but particularly Mzungu (white folks). So they would start a high price and Kim would laugh and say, "Thatís too much! How about Ö. Itís a fair price." And they would go back and forth a little bit before settling.
Now, I have read about this (it comes up in most of the fantasy/Dungeons & Dragons stuff I read when I was younger) but Iíve never seen it in action. I was impressed. I know that it is expected, and that not doing would be a cultural mistake, but itís hard to get excited about a ten shilling difference between their price and a fair price. Thatís about 14 cents. I am not the kind of person that seeks out or enjoys conflict. Iíd much rather avoid it. It is certainly worth 14 cents not to fight about it. 14 cents doesnít mean anything to me, but it does to them. So on one hand Iíd really like to just give them the extra money. On the other handÖwellÖI donít know. I know that you are not supposed to, and Kim certainly doesnít. This is something I need to think a bit more about. I am sure Iíll have to write about it again, Iím sure youíre excitedÖ
We walked out with our produce and walked through a little square back towards the center of town. At the edge of the square, directly across the street from the main market, was a large pile of rubbish and compost which was slowly burning and smoldering. It sent up quite a stench. It looked like everything that didnít get sold in time and spoiled went in to this pile.
At the other end of the little square we walked past the first thing that actually scared me, two military men with machine guns. I have never been very comfortable with guns in general. Even when living in Ann Arbor, walking behind a DPS cop with a gun was a little freaky. I just think that itís strange to be sharing the sidewalk with a person that has a machine designed solely for killing other human beings attached to his belt. And they donít even need to really use them in Ann Arbor. But seeing a men carrying guns designed to kill lots of people at one time, and looking as if they were ready to do so, was more than a little scary.
We stopped in at the patio restaurant of an expensive hotel and rested for a little bit. We ordered a coke, a milkshake and a fruit plate. It was probably an hour all together that we were there waiting for menus, our orders and the bill. I consider myself a pretty laid back guy in a lot of respects, but after a little while I did get a little anxious. African timeÖ.(As a side note (as if almost everything I write isnít a side note) Kim says that there really is such a thing as African time. 7 in the morning is 1( as in 1 hour after sunrise), noon is 6, and 6 in the evening is 12, which is about sunset. At that point it flips to 1 in the evening for 7 pm, etc... Actually itís much better than western-style time. Who has ever believed that a new day starts at midnight. Shouldnít it start sunrise?)
AnywayÖwhile we were waiting around for our snack and relaxing, I expressed my genuine distress at seeing the soldiers with their well worn guns and she laughed. I had thought I was being a wuss about it, but not that muchÖShe laughed and said that most likely the guns didnít have any bullets in them because they couldnít afford them.
On the way back home we stopped in a couple of the stores to look around, and were fairly surprised. There are at least three supermarkets in town. The one that we stopped in had more people working there than they had customers. There would be three or four employees just sort of hanging out in each aisle. They didnít seem to be doing much, but they could presumably help you out if you needed it. The Western style customer service has not quite made it here yet, and letís hope some of the more obnoxious aspects of it, phone automation systems for example, never do. While not as clean or as modern as an American supermarket, it was still set up in a recognizable fashion and, more important to us, had recognizable products. Chips Ahoy!!! They have Chips Ahoy! And Mountain Dew, Spaghetti and spaghetti sauces and dozens of other American stuff. Most of it is much cheaper than in the US. Go figure, itís cheaper to get Kelloggís Corn Flakes in Kisumu, Kenya than it would be in Battle Creak, Michigan.
This was sort of a mixed discovery. Iím all for a level of comfort, but at the same time one the biggest reasons for me to do this (besides of course, Kim, the biggest of all reasons) is to get out and try new things. To expand my capabilities, and one of the greatest expansions that I need is in the area of food. For those of you that know me well, you know I donít exactly have a cast iron stomach or especially adventurous taste in food. Once I find something that I like in an ethnicity of food, I usually donít venture out from its safety. Thai food, thatís Beef and Basil. Italian food, canít go wrong with pasta and marinara sauce. Chinese, Mongolian beef. Mexican, beef tacos with soft flour shells. At some point Iíll set up an adjacent web-page explaining The Unified Condiment Theory of Food in detailÖin the mean time, suffice it to say that I need to break some new ground here and being able to order a coke where ever I go wonít help (hypocrite me, Iím drinking one right now.)
We did, however, pick up some pasta and sauce for a future dinner and then went home. As Kim took a nap I started writing. As uninteresting a picture as it is, hereís me doing just that . More interesting than that is a picture of the sunset off of the balcony at the front of the house .
After re-heating the really good dinner from the night before and watching the English news (Man, the weather cracks me up) we called it a night.