Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Road of Beginning

Someone just said "you are at the road of beginning" in regards to being married and I thought it an appropriate title to the inevitable how-I-got-to-Kenya-blog.

Saturday thru Monday
I left for Kenya on a Saturday afternoon. The plan was for a leisurely morning with Marty, time to make a good lunch of the fresh produce I was not going to be able to get for so long. Despite of almost seven consecutive days of seemingly constant errand running, I woke up early panicked about a few things almost forgotten – ranging in importance from an audio recorder for my research to Soduku for the airplane. I am almost thankful for the hectic morning as it made the time pass quickly and took my mind off of the good-byes and all the nervous energy I had.
I was lucky to travel with a friend from the program, Amy, who will be spending her time in a very small village about eight hours from Nairobi on Lake Victoria. We took a flight to Boston and were treated to dinner by two of my best friends and then took a red-eye to London. The plan was to take advantage of a day in London by trekking outside the stale walls of Heathrow. We of course were overly optimistic about the value of seeing London with such little sleep and too many nerves about our final destination. Amy and I did manage to catch the tube into the city and hit the major highlights – Westminster Abbey abundantly adorned with “Will and Kate” tributes, an over-priced hot meal and double strong latte at a Pret a Manger eaten on the stairs of the National Gallery besides a large group of smoking Germans, a trip to the free bathroom at a gigantic KFC, followed by a walk through the theater district and ending with a trip to the last Starbucks we will see in a long time. I thought it was well worth it. The trip from Heathrow to Nairobi was almost uneventful. Just as I was falling asleep, the small girl in front of me missed her aloha bag by a mile and “aloha”d all over my feet and shoes (luckily I brought six pairs with me, one down five to go). Other than that, it was nice to see the sunrise over Africa, a sight that eased my mind and heart and reminded me why I had dealt with the previous 18 hours of flights and 15 hours of lay-overs.  
Amy and I arrived to Nairobi right on time at 6:30 am on Monday and easily collected our bags after going through the customs to get our visas.  Amy was met by a person from the hotel she was to stay at for two days in Nairobi before a driver from Muhuru Bay could collect her. She was whisked away before I could really say anything, but I held a good thought for her remembering the total shock of my first cab ride in an East African country. I was met by Jeffrey, the administrative assistant to CFK and an undergraduate intern named Lindsey who was kind enough to accompany Jeffrey at the crack of dawn. I handed over my embarrassingly large bag labeled with a bright orange “HEAVY OVER WEIGHT BAG” on it thanks to the Delta employee at RDU that made me unpack my large bag twice to get rid of two pounds of extra weight before “making an exception this time” for my egregious extra two pounds.
Jeffrey, Lindsay, my embarrassingly American amount of luggage, and what really can only be called a semblance of me piled in the CFK truck and made out for my homestay. We went into traffic and I encountered my first Nairobi Jam (not traffic jam, just Jam). Perhaps this is an appropriate allusion to the fact that it is not traffic in the sense that American’s understand traffic but instead a mess of cars, buses, matatus, animals, pedestrians. Each pass by attempting to reach their destination quickest , never minding traffic signs, lane markers, or common sense.  The whole while we are sitting in the Jam I was thinking of Amy and her first time out in this sort of commotion. 
When we almost smacked into the back of Matatu I remembered that I remembered to don my “Africa” cap – which included a whole lot of patience, a quick smile, plenty of humor, and a healthy dose of “let-go-and-let-God”. I was so happy to be here, smack in the middle of a chaotic mess, headed toward a family I didn’t know and embarking on a research project as yet consisting of a single word document.
To get to Mama’s house, one must take a road through the spill-over of a large market. The road is dirt and both severely and typically pocked with holes that are surprisingly deep. During the day, this road is filled with people going to and from the market and lined with kiosks selling goods ranging from underwear to used shoes to umbrellas. It was a genuine surprise that at one point on this road there is a large security gate that leads to a very nice and comfortable compound of connected houses. Each house had a driveway, there were kids playing (in the road), stray cats, and  palm trees. It was there that I found Mama’s house.
Mama came to greet me with a warm hug and a well deserved laugh at my poor attempt at Swahili. We went into her home which is very nice. I had little idea about what to expect about a home stay. Having skipped the almost obligatory UPS study abroad option, I have never done a homestay before. I get my own room, the house has a toilet that flushes half the time (hey, I am an optimist! The toilet is half full?? Uh…), and a shower with enough hot water to take the edge off. Mama cooks dinner and breakfast for me and lunch is on my own. I was previously worried about having to cook for myself and am so happy to be cooked for. Yum!
Instead of doing the reasonable thing and going directly to bed, I decided to attempt to locate a cell phone and access to the internet. Lindsey was kind enough to walk with me to the large supermarket near the house to find a cell phone SIM card. Unfortunately, I was reminded of my mzungu-ness. The woman at the supermarket told me she needed a copy of my passport among other things to give me a SIM card for a ridiculous price. I knew full well I could buy one at a kiosk a hundred feet from the market from someone happy to take my money and not provide the red tape. The internet was a fail too because they were out of the internet-USB sticks they use here instead of having wireless routers in the houses. Many people who own lap tops instead purchase pay as you go internet. That was okay though, I was too tired to problem solve that dilemma.
The rest of the day went by slowly and mostly was filled with rest. Mama has three sons, two of which live at home at the moment. One who is older than I has a job in the city and will live here with Mama until he is married in November. The one who is younger than me is on summer break from Moi University. It is great to have company my age and to have some insight into the Kenyan twenty-something. More on that later.

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