Friday, May 17, 2013

Three weeks in Kenya!

Today marks three weeks and one day in Nairobi. Some things I remember quite well, but a lot has changed in the past couple years from my memories here.

Relationship dynamics are always changing, it seems. People on our team are leaving or joining us, faces I would recognize from my last trip here are working in different areas far from us. Jeff & I have met some new people and shared new experiences together. It's been a blast.

A couple of fun experiences has been trying our hand with the public transportation options. Matatus, sort of a cross-breed of a bus and a van, are the most popular form of transportation for most people without vehicles (that means us!). The drivers here are insanely good, and insanely reckless. It's quite common for them to squeeze past two parallel cars with only one inch to spare on each side. Or to aggressively cut into traffic while *almost* touching the bumper of the car in front. I still find myself gasping quietly when we get to close to a pedestrian (going 50 mph) or stop so close to other cars that I'm already anticipating the crash. Even so, I find the ride somewhat exhilarating and... at risk of seeming dorky... kind of cool. Like here I am in this wild matatu, yeah, you and I both know I've got street smarts!

The trickiest part is payment. Since we are muzungus (white people), we regularly get charged higher than the average Kenyan. They call it "skin tax". Sometimes you can barter down so that you pay only 10 shillings (abbreviation: ksh) more. It's mentally exhausting for me to assert myself so much with strangers on a regular basis, but it's a part of life here and let's face it... it's probably good for me to develop my assertiveness a wee bit more.

Another transportation option is the piki piki, or motorcycle taxi. I have never been on a motorcycle before Kenya... and now I can say I've ridden twice, without a helmet! The scariest part is going over the multiple speed bumps on the road while clenching the bottom of your seat for security (they have bars at the bottom of your seat, no back side, and it's technically not okay to hold onto the driver). My fingers always hurt at the end of the ride from holding on so tight! I've definitely prayed some serious prayers of safety while bobbing up and down over the bumps and hills in traffic. But it is a great way to get around when you don't have time to jump back and forth among random matatu stops, or you want to travel in an area where matatus aren't allowed.

Of course, there's walking too. We got lost on our first trip to the grocery store (called Nakumatt, and sort of reminds me of Walmart before they revamped their design-- remember the blue and white non super centers?). It wasn't until we figured out just how far off we were that I realized how much I relied on driving with our team leaders our first 10 days here. Now we are experts and go the the market almost daily. :)

We looked at apartments in different complexes. There was talk of moving the whole team into a new complex (our leader will not split us up, we will all stay in the same complex wherever it is) and I'm not sure the decision has officially been made whether or not everyone is moving or if we are joining the team where they already stay. I think unofficially we are staying, seeing as how Jeff & I chose an apartment there and visited again while they were repainting to go check what repairs needed to be done.

Our apartment reminded me a lot of my grandmother's place in Mexico. The walls are pale yellow with a white border (a thin strip of wood) along the top. The floors are concrete, painted a rusty reddish color. We have two bedrooms: a master, and another small one, both with cabinetry built into the walls. The kitchen is small, with built-in counters just large enough to house the sink and a drying rack for dishes. We will have to buy our own appliances & furniture out of pocket, the plus side to that is we can buy whatever we want or can afford, the downside of course, is that a fridge and stove and bed are major purchases that don't come cheap.

Another interesting feature is our bathroom. It seems common here that the toilet and shower occupy separate rooms, with the sink to wash up in the hallway. Of course, we did look at one apartment that had everything together in the same room... not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I could've taken a shower and gone #2 at the same time (they were so close together! No curtains, no walls). All in all, I'm excited to move in. It'll be our first official home (as in all to us, no roommates or parents, the WHOLE place is ours) as a couple. I've already bought gift wrap (yeah like stuff to wrap presents with) to use as wallpaper for the sink in the hallway... hope it works!

Yesterday we visited the house of our language teacher. Jeff & I haven't officially begun classes, but I do know "yes" (ha), "no" (maya), and "thank you" (sounds like ma-ha sem-et). We had lunch there, which was quite a fun experience! They brought out a plastic mat, about the size of a small rug with print on it mimicking a floor rug, and then brought a pizza tray loaded with rice, noodles (skinny like ramen noodles), cooked goat with bell peppers, some other Ethiopian meat in red sauce (the family was raised in Ethiopia), hard boiled eggs, and whole peeled bananas. After washing hands using a bowl and pitcher, we dig in with our right hands (left hands are unclean, and therefore unfit for eating and shaking hands). Of course, our language teacher spilled the least amount of food. I found it all to be delicious and somewhat mild in flavor. We had tea afterwards and sat on a mattress on the floor. It had a fitted sheet around it, a maroon acrylic fabric, with pillows along the walls (the mattress was pushed up against the corner of the room). People laughed and joke and spoke of bridges built in Ethiopia, of children and marriage and motherhood, of food and family. Sometimes someone on our team would lean over to me and translate, and sometimes I'd just happily make up the conversation in my head.

All in all, we are learning new things in new ways. It's fun to watch and listen, to ask questions and sometimes just mess up. We can't wait to see how things unfold as we get to move into our apartment, start schooling, and start language classes!

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