Friday, August 25, 2006

I brake for chickens (Thoughts on things you simply get used to out here.)

I can hardly help asking myself frequently, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Almost every time I head out on the roads around here, I have to brake for chickens. Or for goats. Or cows, sheep, or donkeys. And for donkey carts with young boys standing, playing a balancing act on the back of the cart as they steer the donkeys through traffic.

Those are simple things you get used to around here. Sights that sometimes strike me as, "Oh, yeah, this really isn't common back home!"

Other sights that are very Kenyan
  • Men walking on the side of the road with big woven baskets made by the Turkana in Nortern Kenya. They bring the baskets down south to sell them
  • Lunchtime "crusades" on the side of the road with people singing and preaching
  • Roadside discussions. In town, groups will gather on streetcorners, standing really close while one or two people talk about the news
  • Street children. There are many of them in town. Most are abandoned by their parents to fend for themselves in town. They're almost exclusively boys. And many of them walk with bottles held up to their noses as they sniff glue
  • Beggars. Though there are fewer beggars than street children
  • Street vendors. During the day, ladies often walk the streets with big baskets of tomatoes and onions. They carry these baskets by tying a piece of cloth to the handles and then hook the cloth across their foreheads, with the basket hanging behind their back. By 5, the streets fill up with vendors selling used clothing. Underwear. Fruit and vegetables. Used bags. Shoes.
  • Bicycle taxis. You can get a ride from one end of town to the other for a few cents
  • Children waving and shouting, "Mzungu!" (White person!) At first, this bugged me. But I now enjoy waving back at them. Or even waving to kids on the side of the road before they can shout "Mzungu! How ah youuuuu?"
  • Men urinating on the side of the road. I know. It's not a nice picture. But you see it a lot. It's just life in Africa. What else do you do when your culture is one where you walk long distances? Where the women go, I don't know. I've rarely seen women squatting on the side of the road, though I have seen it, and I even saw a girl squatting in the cornfields today
  • People walking. Many walk long distances every day. It's nothing unusual around here to walk many miles.
  • People sleeping in the park at lunch time. Unless there's a crusade, during which I think no-one within a radius of a mile can sleep
  • Drunkards. This, to me, is sad. Sometimes you see men passed out on the side of the road. Or stumbling to get home. I guess it's a good thing then that people walk home rather than drive...
  • People standing around the sidewalk to read the news on the top half of the front page of the newspaper as the papers lay on the ground on display by the newspaper vendor. People aren't allowed to pick up the paper and read it unless they buy it, so you often just see them standing reading what they can see
  • Shoe-cleaning businesses. You can stop and have your shoes shined for 10 Shillings. That's 15cUS
Some other things I've gotten used to at Ilula
  • Carrying my flashlight (or torch, as we say in British English) whenever I go outside at night
  • The sounds of crickets (and of frogs after the rain)
  • The sound of the children singing during 6pm devotions
  • The sound of the children's laughter as they walk to school at 7:15 am and pass by my kitchen window
  • Dogs barking at night. Every night
  • The sound of donkeys neighing at night. Last night, it wasn't a donkey, though. Some cow was in distress and mooed till 2 am. It didn't wake me up. I was awake to hear it
  • Shaking hands. You never just greet someone. If it's a female colleague, you hug on both sides, then shake hands. And when women shake hands, they don't shake the way men do, but instead, when your palms connect, it's supposed to make a loud clapping sound and it's more like you end up grabbing each others' thumbs, not the four fingers like with a regular handshake. (Not sure if that makes sense, but anyway!)
  • A very muddy car. Our night watchmen was our cars if we park them at a certain spot, but some days I simply feel too bad for them to have to wash the car so often! Then I end up driving with my mud-blotched car
So, there. Just a little glimpse of life here. Sometimes all of this "differentness" (I know it's not a word, but it is now) gets to me. Other times, I love it. It's such a simple life. No noisy televisions. No constant commercials and junk mail. But then, sometimes, I miss the noise of life at home.
Silly jingles.
Lots and lots of radio stations to choose from.
Christian radio.
Clear reception!
Someone who delivers your mail to your home, every day.
Fast food.
Ordering in.
Friends' laughter.
Quick runs to the supermarket.

Which reminds me: I ran into my friend Sarah today. She had walked the 20-minute distance to leave her baby with her mom so she could bake a cake for a friend's wedding. This simple task (baking a cake) will take her all day. Walk to mom's house to drop off the baby. Walk home. Walk to the road. Take public transport to town to buy ingredients. Public transport home. Walk. Make a fire in the charcoal oven. Mix and bake the cake. Walk to mom's to pick up the baby. Walk home. But she didn't complain. Not for a moment. Her eyes were glistening with joy. "When can you come for chai, Adele?"

That's what I love about life here. For the most part, it's about simplicity. About relationship. About finding joy in the moment, amidst struggles.

It's hard. But simple. Sometimes, it's not pretty. Other times, there's such beauty.

Such a dichotomy.


  1. They're a nomadic tribe (or people group) who live in northern Kenya.