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Africa Day Five

(Tuesday 12/14/99)

This time I promise to be brief. Actually, I donít have much choice, as today is Saturday and Iíve got to catch up. Iíve also forgotten a fair amount of detail with the passage of time. So there are really only two things that I remember about this day and here they are:

Today we spent most of the day looking for a place to live. We walked around Millimani with Julius, the caretaker of the guesthouse, and his friend Jackson, stopping at places that he thought were vacant and talking to the askaris (guards). Iím not sure how many we looked at or how far we walked, as Iíve said, the streets of Millimani are very confusing. We saw a couple that were too nice, a couple that were too small, a couple that were not really vacant and one that couldd be just right.

It became clear after a little while why Jackson was accompanying us: he was looking for a job. Almost everything here works on an intricate system of favors and connections. If someone has a job they try to get as many of their family and friends related jobs. Julius was trying to get Jackson a job as our askari when the time came to hire security. After that Jackson will try to get one of his people a job as a gardener or something, and so forth.

Since we know Julius and he has been helping us out, he sort of has the inside track on any hiring that we may do. People with more tenuous connections with us have also tried. A couple maids, an askari or two, and driver have all said that they have relatives or friends that would be perfect for us. Weíve been told that we will continue to receive solicitations for jobs for a long time to come, even if the positions are clearly filled. One of Kimís co-workers who has lived here for four years still gets them.

I donít think that there is anything wrong with the system. Itís not really that different from how things get done in the States. I guess the biggest difference is the frequency and the persistence with which it occurs. Universally, the people that have lived here for awhile attest that it will drive you crazy.

So that was a large part of our day.

The second part of the day involved just going to town to go to the store and coming back. The going there, and the going to the store portions went just fine. Coming back was a little more problematicÖ

There are these things called Matatu. They are basically, privately owned public transportation. The first couple of days we were here I thought that the term referred only to the mini-buses that I had seen, but it apparently also includes any vehicle, car, jeep, station wagon, mini-van, or pick-up truck used for the purpose of moving people from one place to another. Most of the cars are beaters, but some of the vans are in a little better shape.

Hereís how it works:

You stand by the side of the road. A matatu pulls up honking to see if you are interested. If you wave them down they pull over. There is usually one driver and one to three assistants. The driver, obviously, drives and the assistants handle baggage, money, and are in charge of fitting as many people as possible in to the vehicle. You do know, that when I say as many people as possible I mean it donít you?

We got in at Oginga Odinga Road asking multiple times whether or not the matatu was going to Dunga Junction, which is a major intersection right near the guesthouse. We climbed in the backmost of four rows of bench seats and paid our ten shillings. We started off towards Millimani, and then we went through it and then we were past it. And then we were in a particularly strange part of town. On the left side was a huge sprawling slum. Lots and lots of people living in crowded shacks and huts. I still canít get used to just how many people there are here! On the right side were the luxurious houses, green gardens and smooth paved streets of Millimani. Separating the two there was only the bumpy dirt and rock road (Ring Road we later discovered, as it rings Millimani) we were on. Of course, every Millimani house along the road had huge walls with no gate facing the slum side.

Every block or so we took on a couple of people and lost one or two. It became more and more crowded. I counted at our peak twenty-nine people, including the driver, two assistants hanging out the open sliding side door and one hanging on to the rear bumper. Twenty-nine people who do not have reliable access to bathing facilities packed on top of each other in a slow moving, beater mini-van driving down a very bumpy, dusty road in the afternoon sun for half an hour is very hot stinky hunk of discomfort for your ten shillings.

This may sound a little strange, butÖsome time near the end of summer, after Kim and I were playing ultimate Frisbee in Ann Arbor, Kim caught a whiff of my funk (and there was a good deal of it as I was playing very hard) and she said something that I thought was very strange at the time. She said that I smelled African. She said that Africans had a very distinct body odor and that I smelled almost exactly the same

At the time I remember being a little put off by her comment, but sitting there on the matatu with twenty seven sweaty African people I had to admit that she was right. I really do smell just like an African. Itís pretty uncanny reallyÖI think that there is more than a bit of destiny hereÖ(Josh do you remember when I told you that my body chemistry had changed and I now smelled kind of ďspicyĒ? Thatís what Iím talking about!!!)

We drove a long way. Actually, we didnít drive that far - it just took a really long time, mostly because people wanted to get off at exactly the right spot. We would stop and unload a person, which sometimes involved four or five people climbing out and climbing back in, and then we would drive ten more meters and unload someone else. A five-minute ride turned in to half an hour.

I absolutely promise to get a picture of one of these things on here. They are truly amazing.

Thatís it for todayÖSee I controlled myself somewhat.