100 Days and Counting…

18 Nov

Hey all! I’ve been living and working in Kenya for 100 days now.  I’ve experienced so much in those 100 days, and I’m looking forward to the next round!

Speaking of milestones, this blog has over 3,000 views since I started it in August. Thanks for all the interest and support!

The most notable occurrence of the past two weeks? I found out that not one, but two co-workers of mine share the same birthday as me! Ezekiel was born on February 6th a couple of years before me, and Ruth shares the exact same birth date as me! Another one of my co-workers does not know his exact birthday – we’ve been telling him he should succumb to peer pressure and “fit in” with the crowd by choosing Feb 6th! Paging Babe Ruth, Ronald Reagan, and Bob Marley – you have new company.

Fear grips many Nairobians now due to continued threats from Al-Shabab militants. To combat this fear, a US artist decided to distribute 10,000 bright yellow balloons at a crowded bus station on a Monday morning. The message was simply to wish all a good morning, as sometimes going to work Monday morning is a tough pill to swallow.

I took part in the event! I woke up at 4:45 to arrive in town at 5:30 to help tie balloons and pass them out to early morning commuters. I hung out with this group throughout the morning.

You’d be surprised how crowded Nairobi is at 5:30 in the morning. What a dedicated workforce, happily taking part in the monotony and stress of the rat race! Here’s a pic of the artist who organized the event – Yazmany Arboleda. He had A TON of energy, which I suppose is a necessity if you’re going to manage the passing out of 10,000 balloons!

During the course of the event, a member of the press thought I was this guy! A reporter asked me if I had a press release and if I was willing to do an interview. You know we Mzungus all look the same, even if one is Columbian and the other American!

One of my co-workers, Betty, has the Swahili name “Kazi.” This translates to “work.” And the phrase “Kazi” appeared on all volunteer t-shirts! We all joked that the entire event had been put on for her!

For the most part, people were willing and happy to take a balloon to hold it by a string on their way to work. Matatu drivers even tied balloons to their side mirrors! The event – Good Morning Nairobi -attracted worldwide press.

And so did the Bears with their dominating win over the Lions on Sunday. While my Bears seem to have righted the ship and are headed towards a playoff run, I’ve been missing watching NFL games. To cure my withdrawal somewhat, I attended a rugby tournament. Every year, Nairobi hosts an international tournament with teams ranging from South Africa to New Zealand.

On the way to the stadium, I purchased a Kenyan flag and and scarf. Upon arrival, we found out that Kenya had been eliminated from the tournament! I still wore my Kenyan garb proudly.

When we found seats and sat down, everyone sang a chorus of “Jambo Bwana” to welcome us to the crowd. This song is associated with foreigners and the title is Swahili for “Hello Mr.” The crowd and my entourage had a good chuckle. We talked to a bunch of Kenyans in the crowd, who were very friendly and keen to exchange phone numbers.

South Africa and Somoa squared off in the final, with Somoa coming out on top. Rugby is an exciting and fiercely physical game, but I longed to see a forward pass. Just one!

After the game, the South African team took off their shirts and did what I would call a victory dance, except that they had just lost! The ladies in the crowd got pretty crazy at this point. Their high-pitched screams are still echoing in my ears.

I went to another wedding over the weekend. It was a Kikuyu (most populous tribe in Kenya) wedding in Thika. The colors were orange and gray and I had a great time. Again, I was the only fair-skinned individual, but I’m used to that by now. Here’s the bride and groom sharing a dance with the tasty cake in view.

Some guys performed a traditional Kikuyu dance. It involved elbow movement that reminded me of the dance one does when taunting someone by calling them “Chicken!”

After the wedding, we stopped at a waterfall called Blue Post. Not quite Victoria Falls, but I’m working my way up!

I drove home all the way from Thika – a 2-hour drive. I drove on the world-famous Thika Road, the super highway being built by the Chinese connecting Thika to Nairobi. The road has no lanes, constant unannounced bumps, and frequent construction diversions.

I had an argument with some guy about merging. Gotta have cars merge one-by-one for efficiency and fairness. And a note to everyone out there – changing lanes in a traffic jam only makes the traffic worse! Staying in your lane always ends up being fastest, so long as there is not something blocking one lane. Don’t believe me? Read this book.

A rat has been tormenting my host family and myself for a couple of weeks. Every night, we’ll see it scurry off somewhere. I found it in my room around midnight one night, and immediately quarantined the thing by slamming my door shut. My 5-year-old sister Kendi and I spent strenuous minutes searching under beds, dressers, and such. Eventually, we cornered it behind a backpack on the floor, waited with bated breath, then struck hard with a broom. I hate to take the law into my own hands, but I’m happy to say this little devil is dead and gone.

Over the weekend, a co-worker of mine was involved in a car accident. Upon boarding a matatu, she realized there were no seats available. The matatu conductor expected her to sit on half a seat – and the matatu had already started accelerating. She didn’t want to, and what did the conductor do? Pushed her out of the matatu. She hit her chest on the door, fell out of the matatu hard on the ground, and then had her hand run over by the back tire of the matatu.

The result? Three days in the hospital, seven stitches for the chest wound, and a dislocated wrist requiring a cast for six weeks.

She has recovered well and it could have been a lot worse, but the whole event is infuriating. There is a culture in the matatu world based on aggression, bravado, and violence. What’s worse, the conductor got off scot-free. He fled the scene and the matatu owner took the blame and negotiated a settlement. No police involved, as the consensus is that they are too corrupt to be of any use in tracking down the conductor. Justice ain’t served in Kenya.

A happy early Thanksgiving to everyone! I heard there’s a place in Nairobi that serves pumpkin pie – I’ll be ordering one for dessert that night. Until next time!

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3 Responses to “100 Days and Counting…”

  1. Dave Fisher December 27, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    Hey Ben,
    I realize this comment is late, but I just read your blog on attending the rugby game. Is it the hunidity or what, in the picture holding the flag it looks like your hair has a tighter wave and it looks like your dad’s hair.

    Just an observation.

    • Ben December 28, 2011 at 1:01 am #

      Dave,

      It’s not humid at all in Nairobi, so it’s not that! I think my hair was greasy that day. That, or…..I’m beginning the process of turning into my Dad!

      Best,
      Ben

      • Dave Fisher January 5, 2012 at 7:00 am #

        Well that would not be a bad thing.

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