Sunday, August 30, 2009
After Mariakani, on arrival at the coast, it's like another country. Lush, green - breezy, showery weather. We wondered why the long grass on the side of the road here could not be harvested and fed to cattle upcountry.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I posted a bit about this last week - a run of dry years in Kenya (since 2003/4), combined with the knock on effect of election chaos at the end of 2007/jan 2008 is pretty catastrophic. The government has finally launched a food distribution campaign to worst hit areas (rather than the public and charity food aid programs). For instance, some schools have remained open during the usual August break, in order to continue feeding children.
A government program of subsidising fertilizer earlier this year has proved useless as the long rains basically failed. If El Nino rains do hit Kenya, starting from September they are forecast to be lighter than the 1997/98 rains, which is good news - as back then there was very destructive flooding, landslides etc. The likelihood of farmers being ready for a good, extended rainfall is in the hands of the government - farmers must be helped as they have become so impoverished due to election chaos and failed rains over previous years.
Hydro electric power, which Nairobi is overly dependant on, is now ineffective as there is no water in the dams. Currently power is being rationed for at least 3 days per week - city wide for householders and businesses alike. The 'jua kali' fundis (carpenters, welders, small businesses) who operate on the side of the road, are struggling badly along side major industries. Boreholes are running dry everywhere. Some are saying that Kenya will be completely generator dependant in the future - though I hope this is not true. The very worst hit area is in the north - but rain has failed all over Kenya - Rift Valley, Tsavo, Kericho. It seems to only be the coast that is less affected - it is raining there now.
From an on the ground point of view - the wildlife is suffering. A lady I met who works in tourism said that Samburu is currently littered with dead buffalo, elephant etc due to the drought. We visited Nairobi National park earlier this week. Cattle has been illegally herded inside the park for grazing. There are the carcases of dead animals lying around - same in Tsavo and Amboseli. In Amboseli the elephant are suffering badly - that park is usually swampy but they have had no rain since January.
The cost of vegetables and food has gone up dramatically due to the shortages. The amount of maize Kenya produces this year will fall way short of what is required as the main staple food (10 million fewer 90kg bags than usual). Kenya has not had a bumper maize crop since 2006 - due to inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall. http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/7f469b3194aa92517160a65dc0d49dc2.htm
A Kenyan lady I met yesterday said,
'while we are praying for rain in Nairobi, those displaced people who are still living in camps are praying that it won't rain.' she also said that business people in Kenya feel forgotten by their government.
Perhaps if things are better managed - problems adequately addressed, with the arrival of the fibre optic cable etc. Kenya could move forward dramatically in the next few years and become the economic 'hub' that it should rightly be. Fingers crossed.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
They were quite punchy,
'where do we sit?' they asked on arrival.
I think they were prepared for a prickly reception from distrustful householders. When I offered them tea, they even seemed pretty unsure about accepting. It was the beginning of the day.
There were around 3 pages of questions, some multiple choice - they were quite interesting. After the usual names/dates of birth etc there were the following:
How many habitable rooms in your house? (ie. I guess with 4 walls and a roof)
What is the roof/floor in your house made of? grass/leaves/tiles/corrugated iron - or - dirt/tile/cement
Do you have access to: 1. radio, 2. tv 3. computer 4. land line telephone 5. mobile phone
Do your children have access to these things?
Do you have 1. bicycle 2. car 3. motorbike 4. tractor/van 5. matatu 6. lorry
Do you have livestock?
When did you build your house or is it purchased?
How many children have you given birth to? How many were born dead? Are your parents living? Does any one of your family have any kind of disability or illness?
In the information leaflet we got given it said: 'all information will be confidential and used for planning and research only. All census officials will swear an 'Oath of Secrecy.' as embodied in the Statistics Act 2006.
I gather than enumerators will be collecting information until Monday - which does not surprise me as it's not a very speedy process.
In addition - yesterday our ex-nightwatchman came over in search of money for his wife's hospital treatment, which I duly gave. She is recovering - she had pneumonia, so he needs to get her out of Kenyatta Hospital asap as they charge 450/- per day. So many people get caught in the catch 22 of not being able to settle hospital bills, so instead wind up staying in hospital as the bills pile up.
Anyway - by way of a break through (- a great help for my donor fatigue), he says he has a job! with Amref who he has been training/volunteering with for at least 2 years - starting in either Sept/Oct - salary: 20,000 per month! He has been interviewed - but was a little vague on whether he officially had the job. 20,000 doesn't sound much, but it is comparatively a pretty decent wage around here. We have been giving him 6,000 per month, not including extra money for hospital tests/extras. Perhaps the last 3/4 years of training with zero income are about to pay off. I can hardly dare hope it will all come through. The funding he sought from Safaricom for his community project (first making school uniforms then weaving wool rugs?) in Kibera has been declined.
I said, 'What is important is the job!!' He laughed.
He promised he would let me know when he starts paid work. I wonder if he will move out of Kibera once he gets a decent wage? He currently pays 1,500 per month on rent in there - which is the same as you could pay for a room in a non slum area - for instance a little further out of town in Dagoretti or somewhere on the outskirts of Nairobi. It will be interesting to see what happens - as people in Kibera often choose to stay. Watch this space.
Monday, August 24, 2009
A Kenyan friend (fellow School mum) says she and others are highly suspicious of the census. Why does it need to be carried out so often? (every 10 years). Why are they asking people to cite their tribe? There was a bit of a debate over whether to do this I gather, but ethnicity is included on the form that must be completed. She said she suspected that census information was used by masterminds behind post election violence, to identify where specific tribal groups were clustered - pin pointing hotspots for clashes. She was also skeptical about the security issues of sending 'enumerators' in red t shirts around to everyone's houses this evening in order to count. 'I told my askari to keep them outside the gate' she said. 'afterall,' she said, 'anyone can get hold of a red t-shirt - I am not letting strangers into my house.'
Saturday, August 22, 2009
I got a bit snarled up with Ida Odinga's mini motorcade outside the tiny 'Foodies' supermarket at the bottom of our road. I love that shop - apparently she is a regular customer too - . I imagine that we both ignor the fact that everything is covered in a thin layer of dust and love all the sunny people who work there and are eager to help. The problem is that the access to the parking is narrow - so had a bit of a standoff with GSU bodyguards over who were trying to swoosh out as I was bumbling in.
My husband saw on the back of a matatu emblazoned with the words 'Siendi Hague!' (I'm not going to the Hague!) made him chuckle - matatus can always be trusted to make a wry comment on the public mood with their tagging.
The Dark Legacy. There's an interesting expose in today's Nation regarding torture that took place in Nyayo House under Moi's regime - links in with a previous post on the same subject. It's worth a read.
Last week Moi, who gave away over 100,000 hectares of forested Mau land during his 'reign' has waded into the rainforest debate warning Kibaki and Raila to 'proceed with caution' which was a bit galling perhaps.
Friday, August 21, 2009
1) our fridge has packed up (the compressor) and is going to cost 12,000 shillings to fix (£100), plus I just spent nearly £800 on fixing my car which had also packed up. As you will see, these contributing factors do not bode well when trying to address problem 2 below:
2) The main problem is that one of the lovely ladies who works in our house has got herself into a bit of a mess financially - and now the problem has landed squarely on my lap. Apparently she borrowed money from a boyfriend last year, then they broke up and the disgruntled man decided he wanted his money back. Last January Florence was being threatened by this man. He came to her house, shook her by the shoulders wanting either her or his money back. He hung about her home and threatened to get people to hurt her and/or her friends.
Florence did the thing that people do here, which is, she took her problem to the local chief. He summoned the man and told him to lay off, but told Florence that she must return the money. Florence and the man finally agreed on a sum they both thought was fair (but Florence still says it is more than she borrowed.) The total is 40,000 Kenya Shillings (around £375 or $700).
In January I was aware of the problem with the man, but Florence did not tell me about the money side of things - just that an old boyfriend was hassling her. I guess she put the money concern on the back burner. Anyway, in July - while we were in England, he was back, asking for his money and threatening again. Florence went back to the chief who said she must pay but the man should also stop threatening. Florence went around various friends and relatives and managed to raise 34,000 - so she still owes 6,000 to the man. The chief told the man, 'be patient, you will get the last bit of your money.' Florence told her friends and relatives, 'be patient, I will pay you back sometime,' Probably adding 'mungu ata saidia' (God will help).
Now - Florence already has interest free loans from us over and above what we believe is a good monthly salary. Everyone takes interest free loans on their salary and we take a little from each month and have accepted that that is how it goes. I know that with Florence's current loan and the fact that she will soon be needing another for school fees, that i cannot add 40,000 to this sum and reasonably expect her to ever pay it back. But Florence would like me to 'help.'
I certainly don't want her to be forced to visit some loan shark and get into even more of a mess - but I am kind of annoyed that her silly problem with an ex-boyfriend has become mine. I am giving her some money - but as I draw it from our savings at the bank I know that this means that I am eating into our 3 girls school fees due in early September, that has been put away carefully (around £6,500 per term for all 3). ARRRRGGGGGG. Perhaps I will give her the rest when we are feeling richer - but I still can't help feeling cross. Damned if I do and damned if I don't.
4) Also, I had to meet the ex nightwatchman's wife last week to give her the monthly sum that we always give them. The HIV positive nightwatchman worked for us four years ago and we have been supporting him since then - he lives in Kibera and thinks up community projects to be sponsored by Safaricom or Amref - but nothing ever seems to get off the ground.
Amref pay for his anti retrovirals and numerous study courses - he is now a qualified HIV tester, has his driving licence and is a trained HIV councillor thanks to them - but none of this is paid work. He and his family are nice (blog readers will remember I refer to him often) but anyway - they day I had to give the envelope, the ex nightwatchman was on one of his courses so he sent his wife.
The way it works is that they send us a text and I meet up with cash (say £55 per month) at a shopping centre that is on my school run. Now it is the school holidays and this time there were horrendous road works - good old Nairobi style, smelly gridlock. I spent 40 minutes in static traffic going to a shopping centre that I didn't need to go to especially to hand over the envelope at a time that I felt I would rather be spending it on new school shoes for the kids. I called Joyce and asked, could she meet me on the road as I was stuck in traffic? - but she didn't understand where I was or what I meant. She sort of shut down and said things like 'I am here' 'I am at the shopping centre'. We had numerous frustrating conversations with her invariably hanging up and me calling back again. I felt very cross. I think I even shouted - 'Please cross the roundabout! I cannot reach you because of traffic! Leave the shopping centre and walk across the roundabout!'
I felt awful afterwards - like a real snake. Sometimes all these things happen at the same time and patience runs out. I sent a text to apologise today then got a reply that said,
'no problem, she understood, despite shes ill since then, coughing, vomiting, etc. hav gon hosp. twice she somehow doing well. feeding is problem. but will get better. thanks'
Now I feel like a spoiled brat and expect no sympthy from readers (will probably get extracts of this post quoted back at me), but I am still irritable (though purging in this blog helps!).
Everything is out of kilter, as a dinner out in Nairobi (not that we go all that much) can easily cost 5,000 shillings. Our accommodation in Tsavo was free but we still had to spend 7,500 on park fees which was a decadence too. We plan to go to the coast soon and stay in a self catering house, and although we have already paid for this. I got a text message to say that cushion covers I ordered to be made up by a local tailor are ready for collection - it is all superfluous.
I guess this must be how Nairobians feel when their very extended family reach out their hands to the city breadwinner regularly. I wonder if they too get cross, or stay endlessly patient. Perhaps they budget for making handouts, but I don't envy them the pressure.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The lodge is located a short distance from Tsavo train station, the latter is a sort of tumble weed, forgotten kind of a place with original buildings dating from the colonial era that are untouched and have sadly fallen into disrepair. There are no more passenger trains passing through, or passengers on the station platform (perhaps this is fortunate as I gather the current record for derailments in Kenya is 8 per month) but the station is evocative of olden days, especially if you choose to conciously ignor the tin huts, chickens and cheerful, dusty children who play about the place and shout 'How are you!'.
The station master was a friendly man and gave us a guided tour. He uses a Victorian style signal box and is pictured outside the station house above holding a sort of stringless tennis racket thing. A small slip of paper is inserted into the bamboo frame of the 'tennis racket' and when a train passes the driver drops his bamboo thingy out of the window and artfully loops the station master's one through his arm. It's an ingenious system that we watched take place when a freight train carrying Magadi Soda passed through. Apparently the slips of paper ensure that there is only one train travelling along the single track between Mombasa/Nairobi at any one time - but the description of exactly how this works defeated me. My husband put a one shilling coin on the track and triumphantly retrieved it after the train had passed, satisfyingly flattened.
Inside the small station house is a boarded up ticket window, an ancient safe set into the wall and a wood counter worn down into soft curves through years of use. There are dusty shelves and a pair of strange red iron Victorian machines with lots of keys (also did not quite understand what these are for). In spite of the young stationmaster's enthusiasm, you could not help but feel he was a bit abandonned at his outpost.
I read a little about the man-eaters of Tsavo. A pair of maneless male Tsavo lion were finally captured and shot in that exact area by Col Patterson and they were thought to be responsible for terrorising the railway workers during March to December 1898.
However, man eating lions were found elsewhere along the railway track. If you visit the Nairobi Railway Museum you can see the actual carriage that a man named Ryall was killed by a lion inside, when it was located at Kima Station.
The gory story goes that Ryall was an adventurer who asked to put his carriage in a siding overnight so that he could stake out the train station and hopefully shoot the lion who was terrorising local people and railway employees. The lion had recently got so brave that, favouring the flesh of man over that of the plentiful game in the surrounding area, was even known to be hunting during the day. In fact the lion had once tried to rip through the corregated iron roof of the station house while the terrified signalman, pointsmen and station master huddled inside. Ryall was accompanied by two fellow intrepid travellers who were also up for the lion tracking adventure, a German merchant, Heubner, and an Italian named Parenti, a trader and the Italian vice-consul in Mombasa. Both travellers were on their way to Uganda.
During Ryall's watch at night (12-3am), he chose to keep look out through the window, leaving it open so as to be alert to every sound but tragically dozed off on his bunk while on duty. Apparently the offending and brazenly unafraid lion quickly climbed steps into the carriage through an open door at one end. It entered then lion stood on the sleeping body of Ryall's Italian colleague who was stretched out on the floor and was woken in terror, then killed Ryall himself who was on a bunk.
Paralysed with fear, squashed by the lion and overwhelmed by the lion's foul stench, the man on the floor fell unconcious in shock. The third, German man woke and dashed to the loo cubicle which he duly locked himself inside. The story goes that Ryall made not a sound as the lion attacked - so it is presumed that he was killed instantly as the lion's jaws first closed around either his head or neck.
Next, the weight of the exiting lion upended the carriage and the door through which the lion had entered, slid shut. According to the story, the lion (judging by the large pool of blood) took some time to decide what to do next, but finally proceeded out of the high carriage window with the body of Ryall in its mouth. Nobody inside the carriage thought to grab the gun that was lying ready and shoot the lion. The mutilated bodily remains of Ryall were found later in the bush not far off from the station buildings, with the lion standing over it. The men of the search party scared the lion away and the remains of Ryall's body was gathered up as well as possible to be transported to Nairobi for burial.
I got all this info from an extract of 'The Lions of Tsavo, exploring the legacy of Africa's notorious man-eaters' by Bruce D Patterson. You can read this extract online, and learn more about how loins terrorised those working and travelling along the railway line. In fact at Tsavo station there is today a 'lion proof' askari hut with metal grills across the window. I don't think that more than two or three people could sqeeze in it though.
Tsavo was indeed very dry and many rivers were not running. We saw lots of elephants and a couple of the infamous Tsavo lion lounging on anthills and looking rather unthreatening on this occasion. One was asleep on its back, legs in the air, like a cat and five or six minibuses clamoured around it, hoping for it to do something terrible exciting - which it didn't.
On this trip, the most memorable Kenyan roadside signs that I found along our journey were 'The slow but sure hotel' (not kidding) and the rather ordinary looking but promisingly named, 'Dotcom furniture store!' that had the usual array of beds and chairs on display outside on the dirt.
The new Mombasa road was excellent, with only the smallest diversion bit left. We even managed to not get stopped by a traffic policeman... though there were plenty in evidence. Just as well, as my husband had left his driving licence at home! oops.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The idea of the sports club is really to help underpriviledged African kids - it's a fantastic cause, but there are tons of Karen mzungus there too - shamelessly bulking out numbers and hopefully pumping a little bit of cash into the place. This week the tennis camp has two American instructors and one from UK, plus the Kenyan coaches who are excellent and visit schools to help with sports coaching (football and tennis). Sadili is quite famous now because Serena Williams visited last term and did a bit of impromptu 'knocking up' with the kids, much to the delight of the local press. I didn't see her but gather she looked quite big and beefy in the flesh.
This week my two went along with two friends who were back from their holiday, they live around the corner from us and are also siblings. Their mum was keen to send them off as she is trying to paint a life size lion for the Born Free foundation and has four days to get it done.
As far as I understand it, our four form a happy group who spend the day thinking up ways of minimizing the amount of tennis they have to play and taking notes on how naughty Callum is being, then reporting back in righteous tones when I go to pick them up in the afternoon. Callum obviously stands out among the x80-100 other children who are participating.
'Callum threw my water cup down the stairs!'
'Callum ran away from the tennis lesson and sat on the step!'
'I fell over and Callum laughed!'
'Callum got told off!'
If it wasn't for Callum, it might be more boring.
Plus there is the challenge of dodging tennis,
'They allow us to have as many water breaks as we like!'
'We persuaded them that we could play a game on the grass instead of doing tennis!'
Today they took the card game Uno with them. They also have to take loo roll and are not allowed to bring any snacks - but can buy snacks from Sadili, so they must take money too. Yesterday they got to muck around in the tennis club's gym and buy chocolate bars, so were delighted.
When I asked my older daughter if she was enjoying it, she said -
'Yes, I love it! I just pretend it's like High School all day!'
She's right, it does look a bit like American High School with open stands next to the tennis court etc.
The younger one, aged 6 - slightly sunburned on her neck from yesterday, on her way out to the car this morning said,
'I feel like crying but I don't know why'
'Do you still want to go?' I asked, 'sounds like you are tired.'
'I still want to go Mummy' she replied firmly and bravely swung her tennis racket onto the back seat.
The guilt of offloading the responsibility of childcare is twisting in my stomach..... though not to the point where I will stop them going.
I know that other desperate parents send their kids off to christian Bible club or the 'Blue Sky' camp for 6 nights, then get their kids back singing religious songs on a loop for weeks. Perhaps I'll try this next year....
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Yes, there is no water in Kenya - the situation around and particularly north of Nairobi is DIRE. In Turkana the drought that began in 1999 has hardly let up. People are desperate and needless to say dying. A friend of mine who has friends living in that area told me that lorry loads of donated maize are being looted from trucks by local people in that devastated area and they then use it to make into changaa (fierce local brew). The finished product is sold on which apparently makes more sense than eating it. The current atmosphere in the area is understandably hostile and highly uncomfortable.
The deforestation of the Mau forest (described as one of Kenya's four main 'water tower's') is scandalous - the forest has been utterly decimated over the last ten years by people simply burning down acres of ancient hard wood trees to create land for farming. Due to the rains failing this year and the subsequent drought, suddenly people in towns are taking notice.
Moi - who gave away thousands of hectares of Mau Forest land to 'friends' during his presidency, has stayed strangely silent on the topic. Raila Odinga published a 'shame' list of names of the beneficiaries of illegal Mau land in the Kenyan papers. The subject is belatedly getting attention because it has become a political issue - plus major lakes and rivers that have never before dried up are dry this year, which has finally forced people sit up and smell the coffee.
For instance, the Mara river is currently all but a trickle. The famous migration looks a little different this year with Wildebeest walking across ankle deep - or not bothering to cross at all. Crocodiles are going hungry. Kericho - tea country - that generally has the highest rainfall in Kenya is not getting rain, which is causing farmers to worry deeply. Drive out of Nairobi and it looks like a desert, Naivasha, Nanyuki even Tsavo. Kenya's 'bread basket' the Rift Valley is suffering from drought. Post election violence that caused people to down farming tools and relocate has contributed to the problem of lack of food. I learned today that our Nairobi neighbour's bore hole, that they use as their main water source, has now dried up.
Due to the lack of water there is power rationing being implemented from this week - which we are assured will not affect Kenya's predicted 3% economic growth. However, as an aside on the radio news today, it was said that banks are being encouraged by government to lower interest rates (currently around 13%) in order to help local businesses.
A power rationing schedule was published in the paper last week - but everyone is a little confused. We were supposed to be without electricity today - but it is still on. Others who expected to have power, have been cut off. It seems that there is an organisational issue somewhere. The Nairobi dams need fixing (now would be a good time since they are empty) and there is talk of others being built at some point in the future - prob. to be funded by an international donor.
On the up side - Mombasa has been getting tons of rain for ages. At the beach it's raining every day - just like England. Also, there are rumours (still speculation apparently) of a mini 'El Nino' hitting Kenya in September that is predicted to cause bumper, unseasonal rainfall and then more 'El Nino' weather next year - so perhaps record amounts of rain will wash away all the current environmental concerns, and put off the evil hour for the Government to have to get their act together and face up to their real problems for another few years. Alternatively, we could end up with no power or water in Kenya in a few more months!
We are also very excited about the fibre optic cable possibly making Kenya/Nairobi a world call centre hub. Apparently the Kenyan style of speaking English is a lot clearer than the Asian version. The system is in place and currently being tested - due to be online soon.
Hillary Clinton was here largely to meet with Somalia's incumbent leader and discuss the unleashed beast of el-Shabaab, not just scold Kenyan politicians about their failure to deliver on any of their promises post the 2007 elections. Sudan's problems were apparently not to be a focal point for Hillary this time, there is a US special envoy on Sudan visiting seperately this week.
So there it is - that was cheery - I feel much better now. Think I might just go and bury my head in the sand again until it has all gone away.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Wobbly tables are laden with piles of second hand clothes or otherwise clothes are arranged on palettes on the ground - it's not ideal shopping conditions. In the more permanent stalls the clothes are hung up on wire hangers which makes nice ones easier to spot from afar. On the whole the spectacle of all those clothes is overwhelming.
What makes it slightly easier is that the vendors often 'specialise' in one type of garment, be it jackets, spagetti strap tops, tracksuit pants, jeans, women's shoes etc. I once went there specifically in search of high heeled knee high boots and miraculously got exactly what I wanted within half an hour - a pair of real leather Bally boots (OK they are a half size too small, but just wearable without causing permanent damage for the odd evening out).
Just before going to England I set my heart on finding Converse All Stars for myself and my youngest daughter and eventually found the two Rasta men that I was looking for with a whole stand devoted to the brand - all colours of the rainbow hanging by their laces in pretty garlands Choosing a pair was quite a sweat. The fact that these guys were so well hidden in the middle of a maze of stall holders, made finding them all the sweeter. They even had a low bench for customers to try on - having said that the decision making was agony (pink or blue or brown or cow print?). The reason I wanted these shoes specifically was that I have learned to my agony that the fact I never walk in Kenya (always jumping in and out of the car), means that I suffer badly from sore feet due to inadequate shoes when visiting England - especially when tramping up and down town high streets during summer sales.
I can tell that you might be shocked, or covertly wincing about me stooping so low as second hand shoes, but I promise you, they are all cleaned up good as new and often pristine in colour too, many have barely been worn. A seasoned mitumba shopper will be good at checking out the writing inside the shoe to see if it is crisp or rubbed through wear.
This time I was in search of some good Timberland type of boots for our gardener x2. 1) because I felt guilty for forgetting to bring them anything from England for them and 2) I could see Jared's toes peeping out from between the leather and the sole of his boot yesterday (my husband says the expression is, 'his shoes are laughing') 3) I got two pairs each for Florence and Gladys in England to add insult to their injury.
I found two pairs of Timberland boots a couple of years ago for 1,500 shillings for the same reason - though when I handed them over, I noticed that they were never once worn for work. At that time there was a man in Mitumba who specialised in Timberlands exclusively. However, I no longer know my way around very well since the whole of Toi Market was razed to the ground during post election violence, and the whole place has had to be reassembled ('rebuilt' would be misleading as it's all very makeshift) - everything has changed.
Some vendors assured me that my guy was right to the centre of the market, far from the more salubrious (and expensive) stalls outside. I could tell that this was not going to be the quick trip I had planned. Stallholders outside the allocated 'market' area have problems with City Council officials periodically destroying their sites, but it is worthwhile for them to trade nearer proper shops, outside where perhaps business is brisker. To be honest, getting inside the market proper is a headache.
First there is the walk down the hill, then past Toi school, along a narrow alley way past the school wall and then deep into the market. Instead of the dark covered walkways of the past - which must have been huge fire hazard then, in fact the place must have gone up like matchsticks, daylight was much more in evidence this time with odd bits of thin plastic sheeting strung up overhead. The undulating, compacted mud under foot was the same - imagine Medieval London and you are somewhere close to the Mitumba experience.
It didn't take long to pass the clothes sellers and reach peripheral tables of cabbages, tomatoes and onions that led then to open ground. The market is now much smaller than it ever was before. Men pushing metal handcarts took no prisoners as they passed - the etiquette is to leap clear as fast as you can as they whistle to warn you of their approach.
Half an hour had passed and I still hadn't found the Timberland man, plus I was begining to worry about leaving my children so far away (though they did have my mobile number). When you get deep into the market, you feel very far from home, so I marched out and headed back. However, I was not ready to admit defeat. The last thing I wanted was to return home empty handed but as I passed the umpteeth jeans stand I thought I might wing it and ask if they had any 'Seven for all Mankind' jeans for me. (ever the shopaholic!) Each time I asked tentatively for 'Seven', I got a blank expression and handed a pair of Levis. I had bought Diesel jeans before, but thought I might be pushing my luck with this £100+ brand.
On the 3rd stand I struck gold. A man standing amid what must have been x1,000 pairs of women's jeans said 'yes' - he rifled through a pile and said 'we have one pair'. They seemed damp, 'straight from the wholesale market today' he said. All credit to him -I checked out the labels, they were genuine. Though I didn't try them on there and then (if I had been wearing a long skirt I would have tried them on underneath) I couldn't resist a punt and bought them. Got home to discover - perfect fit!
Now on a winning streak, I bargained for some good quality, heavy duty boots in the similar Timberland/Caterpiller style - one pair size 7, the other size 9. Jared popped them on as soon as I got home and by way of thanks shot me a broad grin.
It is widely accepted that Mitumba shopping is pricey these days. Due to the 21st century mass production of cheap garments, you often find that many of the second hand clothes are being sold in Africa for more than they would have cost new. When I first started going to Mitumba, some clothes were going for 20/- each if you were willing to dive into jumbled piles, now you are lucky to get anything for less than 200/-. For the brands I was looking for, and in spite of launching my best Swahili charm offensive, prices started at over 1,000/-. It's all fun though. I love the thrill of the chase!
Now I can stand proudly next to my sister and sister in law whose Seven jeans I admired when in England last month and when they ask about my lovely new pair I'll just say, 'oh, thanks....they're Seven' and no one will be any the wiser!
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
I loved reading about Obama's boyhood in Hawaii and Indonesia at the beginning section called 'Origins'. I am now officially an Obama groupie. His mum was obviously hugely influential and a strong character then, driving him on to be a good person and work hard in his studies- though he doesn't really go very deeply into his long term relationship with her, or question any of her perhaps fairly wacky choices in life. It felt almost a bit intrusive to be reading all about the hopes and personal history of USA's current president, even though you as the reader are always kept slightly at arms length.
My impression was that there was a lot in what Barack Obama (or 'Barry' as I now know him) did not say. I suspect he was pretty diplomatic about his relationships with people throughout the book, erring on the side of caution by resisting an urge to make judgements. He is obviously observant and very interested other people's stories, as much of the book's content is made up of these kind of examples.
As I said, he did not say much about his mum - but it was interesting how he embraced the black side of his heritage and almost rejected the white. He did not say anything negative about his experiences in Indonesia or Chicago or Kenya, he just seemed to take things from each place and learn from them. Anything negative came through the voices of others - the disappointments of his grandad, his stepfather and his Kenyan step sister Auma etc.
He said he had an upset stomach in Kenya once, but did not express that there was any kind of culture shock ie. in how different it might have been to sleep in a very basic shelter upcountry with his granny or what the funny food would have been like. No mention of discomfort at all really. It was interesting to read about the expectations families in Kenya have of one another. The relatively successful family members are honour bound to help and 'carry' the less well of as a matter of duty, which means that you are born into a web of responsibility that can be very restricting.
Anyway - overall thought it was fascinating. I loved the explanation of how in Kenya you are deemed to be 'lost' when a friend or acquaintance has not seen you for some time. I have come across that expression a lot. 'You have been lost!' the lady in the fruit and vegetable shop said after we got back from England last week. 'Where are your children - they are lost? I have not seen them for so long!' etc. At the end there were fascinating passages on Kenya's history, colonialization and subsequent independence interpreted through the experiences of Obama's grandfather and father. Lots of food for thought. What did you think?
Hillary Clinton is here in Kenya, arrived yesterday to kick off her 7 nation Africa tour. I think that the news headlines today are 'Raila says stop preaching to us about democracy! Let's focus on how the US can help Kenya' or words to that effect.
Next on my booklist: 'It's our time to eat' Michela Wrong.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
I always found that my best expat friends arrived in town at roughly the same time as me - this is because you generally have a lot in common being on the same point of the learning curve at the same time.
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