Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Today we woke up (some more easily than others), had breakfast, and headed to the worksite.  We moved some bricks, had lunch, moved some more bricks, and then went home.  All in all a pretty uneventful day, which is why this post has a different purpose…
This post is for the parents.  This is where we hope to tell you many things you wanted to know -and maybe did not want to know - about our trip so far:  the lessons we have learned and the ones we have yet to learn.  This post will also cover some aspects of our day-to-day life.  It will also dawdle a bit.  Some thoughts, some comments, some experiences. 
We are all used to things being a certain way in Canada and it is sometimes easy to forget that not everyone has the same ideas about life.  Kenya, a country far removed from Canada, is such a country.
At pre-camp in London we learned some things that would help us in our travels.  One of the most important:  to avoid being assassinated, stay in groups.   Even then, we soon learned a cold hard fact:  even in groups one is never completely safe.  The ugly truth: we were all assassinated (Assassination is, of course, a game).
On our way from pre-camp we quickly learned how to pack 23 people, each with 100 lbs of gear, into a 24 seat vehicle.  Good lesson to learn early, as we quickly found Kenyans have a much smaller interpretation of personal space.   Travelling in this country generally means cramming into every available nook and cranny.   We also learned many things about packing for air travel:  do not strap anything to the outside of your pack, always take a beaver, and airport food is really expensive. 
We also learned there are several ways to pass the time on long flights.  Over our 14 hours in the air we were able catch up on sleep, watch a movie we have been dying to see, or start a journal that may or may not be continued throughout the trip.  Unfortunately, we also learned sleeping is hard when one is continually being wakened by airline attendants to eat, or by a seatmate trying to climb out to get to the toilet.  The most important lesson of all though?  Pillow fights in the airplane are perfectly okay if one asks the attendant to join in (though they clearly have received training in accuracy).
In Amsterdam we learned many wonderful things:  the Dutch are very unoriginal when it comes to naming places (East Church, West Church, New Church); one must have eyes in the back of the head to watch out for cyclists (they are significantly crazier than automobile drivers); if one sees a red light – or blue light – in a window, TURN AROUND IMMEDIATELY.   Although our learning began in The Netherlands, nothing can compare to the lessons we have learned after our arrival in Kenya.  Nothing.
Before any parents get worried, please rest assured we are experiencing life to the fullest while taking every possible precaution.  We seek advice at every turn and our Kenyan hosts are really looking out for us. 
Our first Kenyan lesson:  travelling in Kenya is an interesting experience (to say the least) and it does not matter what mode of transportation one uses.  Our first lesson learned in Kenya is that the driving here cannot be compared to Canada.  The roads are full of potholes and the concept of lanes is almost non-existent.  Minivans seat 19.  Small motorcycles seat four (or seven, if one includes the chickens).  Both the vans we are using have speedometers that read zero all the time. This being said, the roads are actually the best in Africa and all our Kenyan friends say car accidents are quite rare.  Of course, the rotten roads on which we drive mean we are rarely going fast enough for an accident to result in any kind of damage.
Our second lesson: monkeys will steal your food, so hide everything.  While that mommy monkey with her impossibly cute little baby might be irresistible when seen through the viewfinder, the rest of their cohorts will rob you clean of all your food behind your back. 
Our third lesson:  learning Swahili is difficult and most of us have zero ability.  That said, jambo means hello, kwaheri means goodbye, ndiyo is yes, hapana is no.  Wewe ni mbrembo means you are beautiful, but half our group can’t pronounce it.  Most Kenyans speak a bit of English, but despite language difficulties we all laugh the same way.
Our fourth lesson:  culture.  Here we are, 23 Canadian mzungus, waltzing our way (quite literally sometimes) around the country.   Everywhere we turn we see the face of Kenya – the faces of the schoolchildren we met in Nairobi and continue to meet here, the faces of the vendors at the markets, the faces of the labourers digging for hours.  Our colleagues, the Kenyan Rovers, have shown incredible patience trying to teach us the intricacies of Kenyan tradition.  The preparation of foods such as ugali, chapatti and Kenyan tea may seem commonplace to the locals, but to us the experience is brand new.  For those of us accustomed to religion in Canada, the devotion and excitement of the churchgoers in Kenya offer a fresh new perspective.  Although rural Kenya is poorly developed, the people we meet appear to make the best of it.  We occasionally receive tugs on the sleeves when in the market, but begging is not commonplace.  We do, though, get charged a little more when buying supplies.  We have taken to asking a Kenyan Rover to accompany us to query prices when they seem too high.
Our fifth lesson:  here in tea-growing country it rains almost every day (which generally results in a power outage after dark); one cannot find cheese anywhere; Kenyan puppies are really cute and tempting to take back to Canada.  
Our sixth lesson:  there is some time required for adaptation to a new environment.  Some people have had more trouble adapting to the food and workload than others, but our medical advisors have done a wonderful job assisting them.
Our seventh lesson:  marriage has a price.   Dating rituals last two days and usually involve the exchange of a significant amount of livestock (or a couple of puppies for Canadian girls, as they generally can't cook or clean).  
Our eighth lesson:  expect the unexpected.  Everyone here owns a cheap cell phone, but there is little communication.  Timings slip.  People show up – or don’t show up - with no notice.  Cops carry AK-47s.
Our final lesson:  keep an open mind.  We are all incredibly happy.  We have all been bitten by the Kenyan bug, and the diagnosis is the same:  Kenyan euphoria.

By Eric Post

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