I am slowly beginning to understand that the small things are what make one think about abandoning the African life. It has been more than 2 months since I returned and so far I have been swinging between victory and hopelessness. I am still astounded by how slow life can be, and I am definitely not used to waking up and realizing that I have nothing to do for the next 24 hours. After chasing a certain payment for a month, I have decided to take the advice on an older woman who after hearing about my ordeal said “Leave it to God….” and that is exactly what I have done. Sometimes sanity can become a rare commodity when you respond to irrationality with sensibility.
I have learnt to appreciate tourism in Kenya. I walked to the Railways Museum in Nairobi which chronicles the building of the Kenya Railways and the famous story of the man-eating lions. I have also been to the Kisumu Railways pier and the station, which is like walking back in time. The station has been renovated and looks just the way it would have when it was first built. Sadly the railways are not running at the moment, a train ride would have been worth every cent. I also took a walk in the Kisumu Impala Sanctuary, the closest I have been to wildlife in a very long time. The lions are amazing and I am also thankful that they prance behind a fence. The leafy trees are definitely a welcome respite from the searing heat.
The political workings of Kenya are another thing that astounds me. I am amazed by the people who run for office, from criminals to pastors who fleece citizens in the name of the Lord. I try very hard to understand why people vote for leaders whom they do not believe in and do not even like. It is a whole science on its own. It makes me wonder whether the country is headed for the better or for the worse in politics. The interesting thing is that nothing is predictable in politics anymore, which means that for me as a voter, my vote may actually count in the next election (compared to before when the leaders were chosen before the election).
Trust is a commodity that is missing from this society. Many people do not trust the government and as a result, every man thinks of only himself. People have no qualms about swindling each other, because the government itself swindles them. Stories of killings and kidnappings are also on the rise- thanks to the amazing cell phone that is now available everywhere. Relationships, both personal and professional are always up for question especially once one reads the juicy tabloid stories about the latest victims of fraud. While I think about the balance between selfishness and self-protection I am beginning to understand just how crazy the psychology of survival has become in Kenya. Everyone is out to make a shilling and if they can get yours, they will- and that includes my own government.
So to add to all these are some very specific issues which I think we can improve on and can make transitions easier for me….maybe for others too!
- Public toilets- really? There are “clean” toilets all over than you can pay Ksh. 10 (about USD 0.12) but clean is relative. I have learnt the location of all international hotels in all the cities I am in, the trick is walk in with confidence, use the toilets and leave. I have to survive after all.
- Sanitation. After visiting the Kibuye market in Kisumu last Sunday, I really do believe that people survive by God’s grace. In the midst of mud, used polythene and paper bags, putrid water and rotting vegetables is a woman making chapatis and beans, and there is a long queue of people waiting to be served. There is no sign of water for washing hands anywhere.
- Blackouts- oh yes, this is the life here. The slogan for the Kenya Power and Lighting Company is “Kenyans supply the energy we supply the power” I wonder if that is a joke.
- Personal hygiene – I use public transport and sometimes when the ‘manamba’ asks me for money I almost gag- there is a smell of dead bodies emanating from his mouth. I will not mention the body odor, the sweaty palms or the people who re-wear their smelly clothes. Of course a majority of people do not stink J but it takes one…..
- Dust – I am asthmatic so naturally I do not do well with dust but that is beside the point. Every time I wear a pair of jeans it becomes dusty and I have to wash it. My shoes have to be cleaned every time after I wear them. My hair and face are not spared either and at the end of the day when I wash my face I am scared because the water running from my face is dark.Of course one cannot eliminate dust in Kenya; I am open for suggestions though.
Do not get me wrong; I do not hate the life here, I genuinely love Kenya. My absence of 8 years has allowed me to think differently and understand Kenya in a different way, and with those eyes I am reintegrating into a society which has changed and is still changing. Like the coke advert says “…a billion reasons to believe in Africa” I could not agree more.