Hamjambo! Habari zenu? Mimi ni nzuri sana! Hi everyone! How are you? I’m great.
First off I’d like to apologize for abandoning this blog for so long… our first week in Kenya, the orientation period, was without opportunities to contact the outside world. Actually, some of my fellow students joked that they felt like they were in rehab. But now we’re connected again! So, here I go!
Today was my ninth day in Kenya, if I’m not mistaken. I arrived late on the 30th (almost the 31st) after quite a few hiccups in the travel process… as some of you know already, my connection to Nairobi (in Paris) was cancelled (because the plane had two flat tires…sadly I’m not kidding), which delayed my arrival by a full day plus some. I spent most of the time in between freaking out to my parents via Skype from my room in the airport hotel we were put up in and observing my fellow passengers at Charles de Gaulle. My second attempt at a flight to Nairobi on the 30th was delayed two hours, but it did eventually take off. Luckily, contacting my program was not too hard, and one of my academic directors, Jamal, was there to meet me at the airport on Sunday night when I finally did arrive, sweating under the light jacket and scarf I was wearing, which were suddenly excessive in the muggy heat of the Nairobi evening.
Since I have over a week to update everyone on, I decided it would be better for me to make a list of points, if you will, than for me to try to reiterate everything. So, here are some things you need to know about Nairobi, Kenya and my experience here thus far!
1. Swahili is all about the greetings. We have learned a variety of ways to greet people, ask how their family/work/home/morning/afternoon/evening/sleep is or was. We have also learned that there are only three appropriate responses to these inquiries: nzuri, njema or salama. All of these mean “good”. Kenyans will only express discontent if something is seriously wrong. Additionally, Mama Mary (the student coordinator of the program) informed us that if we have these phrases down and use them with native Kenyans, we will have “conquered” the whole language, as Kenyans will no longer assume we are tourists and instead interact with us as normal people.
2. Giraffe saliva is antiseptic. We learned this from Shirley, a great employee at the Lang’ata Giraffe Center in the suburbs of Nairobi, where we all “kissed” giraffes by having them eat food pellets from our mouths. Giraffe tongues are rough and they often leave strings of saliva behind, but it really was not as gross as it sounds!
3. All Kenyans watch the primetime news at 9 o’clock. From what I’ve seen so far, this is not a generalization. Kenyans really like to keep up with current events and be informed. Strangely enough, soap operas are also hugely popular here. Cleverly, they’re shown on every channel in the 8-9 PM slot, in between the Swahili-language news at 7 and the main news (in English) at 9. A couple of the most popular shows are “El Nombre del Amor” and “Olvidarte Jamas”. If you’re wondering why those titles don’t sound very Kenyan, it’s because they’re Mexican! The original Spanish is dubbed in English, which contributes significantly to the entertainment factor. Tonight I also saw an English-language Kenyan soap called “Changing Times” and “Shree”, an Indian soap dubbed in English. I think the latter was the most puzzling thus far, as it included a whole supernatural element in the form of a ghost haunting a young man whose mother is trying to force him to pick a wife. I definitely want to get to the bottom of that one.
4. Pollution is absolutely TERRIBLE here!!! This is one aspect of Nairobi that I will not sugarcoat, nor grow used to. Not only is there trash everywhere (we also saw what appeared to be a charred cat in a gutter yesterday… disturbing), but the air quality is awful. The culprit seems to be the millions of cars, buses and matatus (minibuses used for public transport) spewing exhaust into the air all the time. Even if there is not black exhaust blowing at your face, you will likely be squinting your eyes against the dust rising from the dry sidewalks. The air is definitely a far cry from what I am used to in Maine, or even in D.C.!
5. Sports are huge here. Several major ads are sports-themed (one that never fails to make me chuckle is an ad for Nivea products for men, the billboards decorated with a soccer ball and the slogan “For men who want to score.”) and a large percentage of the males I see on the streets are wearing various jerseys. I am loving being in a place where soccer is universally popular. Usually I have to resort to boring my family or friends when I want to discuss something happening in the sport, but now I could pick any person on the street and be reasonably sure they’d know what I was talking about/have an opinion on it! Most people support English club teams (the most popular appears to be Arsenal, followed closely by Manchester United, then Liverpool and Chelsea). I’ve also seen a fair amount of support for Spanish club teams. Unfortunately, I discovered our bus driver is a culé (a supporter of FC Barcelona, mortal enemies of my favorite team, Real Madrid), so we will no doubt be maintaining some sort of a rivalry throughout the semester. Despite soccer’s huge popularity, I haven’t actually been able to watch a match yet… finding a place where I can do that is going to be one of my goals. The Kenyan Premier League is also starting soon, as well as the qualifiers for the African Cup of Nations, so hopefully live football will also be an option! Rugby is also very popular. On Sunday afternoon, I went to a rugby match with a few of my friends from the program and one of their host brothers. It was a friendly between a Kenyan club team and a visiting Australian team. The Kenyan team won quite convincingly. It was a really fun experience even though I have not really grasped the rules of the game.
6. In Kenya, there is something called “M Pesa” (I believe it stands for mobile money… “pesa” is the Swahili word for “money”) which allows people to store and transfer money on their cell phones. The technology is completely beyond me, but what I do know is that this is something that does not exist anywhere else. From what I understand, you can basically text a certain amount of money to a store clerk or to a company whose bill you have to pay, and they will receive the money on their phone and can then redeem or cash it, so it becomes “real”. It’s a pretty brilliant idea, and is hugely successful in Kenya where EVERYONE has a cell phone and network coverage. Kenyan banks are probably the only party that is not enjoying the benefits of m pesa.
7. There is a bad drought in Kenya right now. Various related stories are on the news every night, and it has forced some herders like the Maasai and others to bring their cattle closer to Nairobi from “up country” (the term used to describe everything outside of Nairobi, as far as I can tell) to graze. The water shortage is definitely being felt in Nairobi. I’m lucky enough to have a shower in my homestay, but most of my fellow students don’t, and instead are taking “bucket showers”. There is also an electricity shortage. I’ve already experienced several outages over the last week and a half at various locations and times of day.
8. Lastly, we are all EXHAUSTED by the end of each day. It could be the walk to school, the strong sun and the heat, the adjustment process… I don’t know. But whatever it is makes it so that keeping my eyes open past 9:30 is truly a struggle. The power was out last night, meaning we couldn’t watch the news… so I set a personal record by getting into bed at exactly 9:10 PM.
Ok, I think I’ll stop here for now… I miss and love you all, and I promise to update more regularly from now on! I’ll do my best not to let days escape me, though not having internet anywhere but at school dose pose a challenge. Until next time, lala fofofo! (Means something like “sleep like a baby”) Tutaonana!