Thursday, October 11, 2007

So long and thanks for all the ugali

I can't believe that my time at Lubao Peace Centre is coming to a close. I've made so many friends in this short time, and there are so many funny memories. Certainly the endless meals of ugali and beans and rice will be remembered but not missed! Chapatti I will miss! And I can't wait to taste fresh vegetables again.

I will remember my first trip in to Kakamega town all by myself and the way everyone waved me off at the road and then was so excited to see me back safe and sound (and bringing chocolate!). I will remember Florence and Chris, the HROC facilitators. I will miss Florence's laugh, the associations crying out for more food in Chris's stomach, and the fries they made for us! There was the night when we had so many people staying at the centre that six of us were piled into Getry's bedroom (which only has two beds!)

There is "Mummy" who cooks and cleans for us when we need extra help and says "aie" when I say something funny. There is Timoth who does errands and is the caretaker. He likes the generator to turn on at 7pm - it is not possible before! There is Eunice who came and helped out for a few days and made amazing chapatti and of course there is the old man down the road who likes to eat unripe figs.
So here are a few snapshots - Getry with her daughter Dennah, Mummy with her extended family, Timoth down by the river with Mummy's son, Wilberforce and me attempting to wash clothes Kenyan style.
One thing I loved was the fact that all the people I know who are living in Kenya are connected to each other in some way. As visiting is a regular event, I was able to catch up with most people either for work or for pleasure. I was able to invite Pete to visit us, and introduce Dennis who I'd met in Geneva to the centre, as well as go visiting friends Eden in Kisumu, Rose in Kitale and Fran, Kim, Christine and Robin in Shinyalu.

The saddest goodbye will be with Getry. She has been a sister, a confidant, a teacher and part of the audience when I was acting the clown. I have learnt to wash, fetch water, and cook mandazi, thanks to Getry's patient guidance. We have laughed and cried. Thank you Getry for being such a wonderful host and a dear friend.

Air time

One daily occurance that I still find amusing is when the matatu fills up to the brim and some people are forced to sit in the isle, somehow straddling the two seats on either side. This is uncomfortable, but better if you're a larger person as more of you fits on the two bits of seat. I asked Getry if there was a name for this situation, and she told me it's called "air time"! If you're a lucky air time person, you will be given a piece of wood to place between the two seats to serve as a sortof bench. I asked if you get a discount if you have to do air time, but she pointed out that you still arrive at your destination, and therefore get what you paid for. But air time is not always a bad thing. Once I even saw a piece of wood covered in velvet - now that is what I call travelling in style!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Second hand heaven

For those of you who love a second hand bargain, I tell you, I have found the ultimate charity shop! The markets in Kakamega (and many towns around Kenya) have streets and streets of stores selling second hand clothing at very reasonable prices.

When I expressed my glee at finding so many bargains, one storeholder shook his head and laughed, saying "but these clothes are from where you're from". It's true, they are. People send second hand clothes to Africa, and instead of just giving hand-outs, the whole thing has become a business venture. Each Monday when the shipments arrive, people go and pick out clothing according to their speciality. Some people sell men's shirts, some sell jeans, some focus on ladies skirts etc. Then they take their wares to their little alloted market store and make a little living.

What this man didn't realise was that nowhere in the western world (that I've seen) are the second hand clothes so well organised and so extensive. You can get absolutely anything you want here, and you don't have to be lucky - there's enough of everything to go around. The fact that I'm supporting local business at the same time as re-using perfectly good designer jeans all for an agreed price of less than $3 makes the whole process very rewarding.

Of course, there is a down-side, as a friend recently pointed out to me. Often in these situations it is the middle person (the one shipping the clothes) who makes the biggest profit, and the virtually free market for western clothes reduces the market for locally made clothing and products. This is true of so many approaches to development - people mean well, but don't think about the negative impacts of their gifts. In order to make up for my sins, I also bought lots of local fabric and artifacts, and look forward to having these little memories about me when I am back home in Australia.

Monday, October 08, 2007

When i needed a neighbour...

I like to take a walk before sunset, just to get a bit of exercise after the heat of the day. Usually people will greet me, either in English or Swahili, which makes the whole experience very pleasant. For many local people it's quite amusing to see a muzungu (foreigner) walking along the road - usually we are expected to be driving a 4wd or at least sitting in a matatu.

The other day just as I was returning to the compound a man greeted me with particular enthusiasm. He was telling me that his vehicle had lost its wheel, and when I looked over at the vehicle parked directly opposite our centre, I could see that lots of people were standing around it, and it had indeed lost a wheel. He wasn't sure if they would get the vehicle working again before night. He had seen the sign for the Friends Peace Centre, and since he was also a Quaker he thought he would ask if we have rooms available.

I think he assumed that because I was white that I must be in charge. So it felt good to say that I would have to check with my boss. We aren't exactly a guest house, even though we do have beds there. I was a bit apprehensive about calling my boss. She is very easy going, but in Australia you just don't invite strangers into your home. I needn't have worried. Getry was very pleased at the idea of helping out, and instructed me to organise some tea for them. She even brought a friend with her who was a mechanic, and he helped get the car to the point that it could be driven the next day at least as far as a proper mechanic. We cooked a bit extra for dinner, and I went and made up the beds. Then everyone shared a meal, and went to bed very satisfied. The usual "appreciation" ritual took place the next day, and I felt sad that this doesn't happen more often in Australia. It's nice being able to help out once in a while.