Out of Kenya (part 3)

Week 2 (cont.)

My brother and his family stayed a few days before they had to return to work and school. I had some time to kill, and so I did. On Sunday, I attended the church plant my mother’s a part of. We were less than 10 adults, but there was Bible study (led by my Mum), followed by singing(led by the pastor’s wife), and a sermon (by the pastor, of course).

This is out-of-the-blue, but I just have to mention that I consumed a lot of tea, ugali, chapati and mangoes during my brief time with my parents.

Week 3

My time in the countryside drew quickly to a close; except for the mosquitoes, I was sad to leave. The bus ride back to Nairobi was thankfully uneventful. We got to the city formerly known as ‘The Green City in the Sun’ during the evening rush hour. I have repeatedly been in some major jams here in Rome, so I don’t know why I got so worked up about this one (and the ones I experienced in the following days). Talk of double standards. Anyways, being more stationary than mobile really got under my skin.

A few days after my return, a leading daily published an article on so-called ‘summer bunnies’. (Whoever came up with that name should be thrown in a porridge-filled pool). They are the Kenyans who live and work abroad, but return home for holidays. The article highlighted the unusual behaviour that sometimes characterizes those of us in the Kenyan diaspora. Having belonged to it for a few years short of a decade, I guess I’m qualified to answer some of the “accusations” levelled against us.

  • Not remembering buildings and street names: So true. I was shocked on my first trip back that I could only remember the exact locations of 3 streets in downtown Nairobi (Kenyatta Avenue, Moi Avenue, Tom Mboya Street). I could recall the locations of a number of buildings, but not the street names of those locations. It did not help that I wasn’t staying at the house which was my home before I left. Come to think of it, I have stayed at a different house on each return home, which has meant readapting my brain every time. Nonetheless I have been able to get around, but not without some patient explanations from my brother.
  • Acquiring an accent: My family back home will tell you that I haven’t changed on this count. However, I did have to change the way I pronounced certain words so that people could understand me. Case in point: my first name. When I first came to Rome, I rolled the ‘r’ in my name, which almost always led to my being misunderstood. A few months later, I came up with 3 different versions of pronouncing my name: Kenyan, Italian and English ( for Yanks, Brits, Aussies, etc). The Kenyan version has since been dropped in favour of the English one, alas.
  • Forgetting local languages: Don’t they ever communicate with  folks at home? This one borders on ridiculous.
  • Easily recognisable clothing: The article describes summer bunny attire as follows:

They love roomy, hanging t-shirts most of them emblazoned with the name of some American city, state or a university. Invariably they will be weighed down by tons of bling while the girls will be in something outrageous.

Phew, I’m off the hook on this one. Not that I don’t suffer from some wardrobe excesses: I find myself changing clothes just to go and throw trash. That’s what you get from living in a country where appearances are to be kept up at all times.

  • Forgetting how to use cash: They’re so used to plastic that cash overwhelms them. Ridiculous. That is one of the reasons why all currencies all over the world have big numbers on them, so that you can tell how much it’s worth, duh.
  • Having everyone think you’re swimming in money: Salaries in the developed world are definitely much higher, but so is the standard of living.  Many Kenyans working abroad have lowly jobs, which I have nothing against. Their families, however, may not know this. One lady I met worked as a nanny, but told her family she was a teacher. She would take photos at birthday parties and send them home as “proof” of her job. Such conduct only helps perpetuate the myth that life out here is easy. The last I heard, the lady in question had thrown in the towel and returned home.

(To be continued)

Cat in a conical collar

Tempesta the cat
Tempesta the cat

Tempesta the cat recently gained a new accessory—an Elizabethan collar. It must be said that she also lost something: her ability to have kittens. Two cats is quite enough for this household, thank you very much.

Within a few minutes of her arrival in her new home (this one) a few months ago Tempesta was bounding all over the place, hence her name, which is Italian for ‘storm’. We don’t know if it’s the collar or the operation, but now she’s much more sedate and stationary.We’re hoping she remains that way…

P.S. This is my first  post about a cat in 10 months. Hooray for self-restraint!

Out of Kenya (part 2)

Week 1 (cont.)

I had a very toned-down Christmas day. Probably the most toned-down of my entire life (not that I’m complaining). With my brother and his family, we went to Nairobi National Park. A few thousand other citizens and tourists had the same idea—there was quite a mass of cars and people trying to get in. The drive around the park was hot and dusty (after all, it was December at the equator), and we saw very many antelopes. The two warthogs we spotted were camera-shy: one disappeared in the tall grass, and the other under a culvert. One lone giraffe was kind enough to pose for us, as was a zebra (my niece remembers that giraffe very well; the rest was probably all  a blur for her). And along the way, we adults taught each other the names of animals in other languages, my specialty being Italian, of course.

Back home, I got to hang out with my niece quite a lot, watching Teletubbies and other kiddie programmes. I still don’t understand how kids can watch the same thing 50 times and not get bored. The amazing human brain…

Week 2

After one week in the capital, we packed up and headed to the countryside. On our way there, we drove through areas that were affected by the post-election violence almost exactly a year before. We saw a roadside memorial at the site where a Catholic priest was dragged out of his car and killed, simply because he belonged to the wrong tribe. We saw  a number of burnt out shells of buildings, some standing next to intact structures. We drove past an IDP camp. I was saddened and angered at the sight of all that. Sad and angry that those responsible may never be brought to justice…

We reached our destination late in the evening. Seeing my parents again after over three years was wonderful. I’m sure the feeling was mutual :). I spent only a week with them, sadly. I wouldn’t have minded sticking around more, but I had things to do in the city. My week there was spent living a life bucolic—I fetched water from a well for the first time in my life, for example. I made friends with the dog (and her three puppies) and the cat. The chickens were scared of me for some reason. I didn’t bother with the goats— a mother and three offspring—they were big, had horns and knew how to use them.

During this time, we went to see my only surviving grandparent—my maternal grandmother. It was the first time she was meeting my niece, though I’m not sure either of them remember the encounter. We took lots of photos, so at least my niece will have to believe us. She also got to see photos of her dad as a youngster, and was surprisingly good at recognising him. My sister-in-law had a good chuckle looking at some of the more awkward shots.

(To be continued…)

Out of Kenya (part 1)

Image uploaded by degreeszero on Flickr

So… I have been back in Rome for over 100 hours now, but I still haven’t got round to blogging about my recent trip home. Live-blogging would have been great, if I had more patience with the Internet speeds. I therefore had every intention of sharing my experiences and views as soon as I got back. Being the procrastinator that I am, (alas, part of my personality) I have miserably disappointed myself by not blogging sooner. However, once I decided to look for an image on the theme of procrastination and found this hilarious flow-chart, I found myself motivated enough to start blogging.

In brief…

This was my third trip home in almost a decade; I was well aware of the fact that I’d feel more like a tourist than a native. It is a weird feeling—slightly uncomfortable and somewhat confusing. For example, my bedroom and my most important possessions are in Italy, but on the immigration card (that all people entering Kenya fill out), I filled in “Kenya” in the blank space relating to “country of residence”. (Had anyone asked me exactly where in Kenya I resided, I’d have been at a total loss, since all the (four) members of my immediate family had moved house since my last visit). As I said, uncomfortable and confusing.

Week 1

I remember very well from school that different cloud types form at different altitudes. What I didn’t know was that there could be more than one layer of clouds simultaneously. To a person who does a lot of plane travel on cloudy days, this is not at all remarkable. But to me (and all other earth-bound folks), seeing clouds both above and below the plane (flying from Rome to Zürich) was quite a novel thing…

The guy seated next to me on the Zurich-Nairobi leg of my journey had a serious case of BO and no idea of the concept of personal space. He also couldn’t operate his personal entertainment gadgetry, and resorted to watching mine. Annoying. What I didn’t realise is just how much of a loner (and therefore a cherisher of personal space) I’ve become. When I got to my brother’s home where I’d be staying, there were 3 adults and 3 children there beside me. It was jarring to hear all those sounds and see all those people in one house. I must have seemed rather aloof and snobbish during those first 24-36 hours; I was a little overwhelmed by the unfamiliarity of the situation, but I recovered soon enough ( I think).

One of the aforementioned three children was my three-and-a-half-year-old niece. I last (physically) saw her when she was about two months old. Unlike then, she now needs constant instruction on good behaviour and correction when she deviates from acceptable norms. I don’t know if I’ll ever have children of my own ( their prospective daddy hasn’t shown up yet), but I sure hope that we won’t end up needing the help of a Supernanny (not that my adorable niece does 🙂 ) Raising well-adjusted children isn’t easy, and I wonder whether I’ll be up to the challenge…