Few of you have any clue how I live. Other than the “for just a fifty cents a day, you can sponsor…” commercials which used to air on TV, most people in the United States don’t know anything about what goes on in Africa. There aren’t any of those kids with flies in their eyes, swollen tummies, etc in Tala… I think you have to go to the slums of Nairobi to find those (Kibera, Mathare, Kariobangi). In order to both quench your appetite for information and to educate those of you who are clueless (or have terrible imaginations), here’s a little bit about where I’ve been staying for the past two years…
I live in a town called Tala. It’s not so much a town as a big market where people from surrounding villages come to conduct business. There aren’t many people who actually live in Tala (maybe 5,000?), but there are always people in transit through it, especially on market days. Most of the people in Tala come from one of the surrounding towns or villages (Nguluni, Kangundo, Kathiani, Sengani, Matungulu, Katine, Kinyui, Mitaboni, Kikambuani, etc!). We have two “market” days (Tuesday and Friday) and the place is packed on those days. You can find anything in Tala on a market day: cows, cabbage, honey, brooms, bows/arrows, rope, spare tires, speakers, drugs, prostitutes… anything.
Pat came over before lunch and we worked on her computer a bit. Last week I helped her get her laptop connected to the Internet (so if you haven’t started reading her blog now might be the time to check it out), so she stopped by to brush up on some of the confusing steps. We walked to Tala and snapped some pictures along the way. You can see me walking down the dirt road that leads from my house and the college to Tala-Kangudo highway, it’s about half a kilometer. From the highway Tala is another 1.5 km or so (it’s about 65 km to Nairobi). It’s a dry and dusty road, and I hate walking alone. I’ll do it, but it’s like a gauntlet because of all the people shouting at me.
As you approach Tala’s market you have to pass the stage. I guess a “stage” is British English because I’m pretty sure I’d never heard it until I came to Kenya; it’s where the public transit vehicles arrive and depart. Most of these vehicles are called matatus. Matatu means “three” in Swahili, but the etymology differs depending on who you ask. It’s probably the number shillings it used to cost to ride one, but now I pay around 150 Kenyan shillings to travel from Tala to Nairobi. We have a few flashy matatus in Tala, but most of the crazy ones are in Nairobi (they are unique in all of East Africa, probably the world… I will document it one day). Along with matatus, there are a bunch of touts and makangas who are always running around the stage yelling routes, prices, and beba beba ( “carry carry” ). Anyways, after the stage you can see my buddy Sammy at his photo studio. I had lunch with Pat and then Sammy and I walked around the market to do some shopping.
I went to my usual butcher and bought a quarter-pound of beef for fifty-five shillings (around 75 cents). I don’t usually buy meat, in the last two years I’ve probably bought meat six times. A friend brought me some fresh pigeon peas so I wanted to cook a stew with carrots, tomatoes, cilantro, etc and pour it on top of some rice. Tala is arranged around two main streets with a real market in the back of the town. Today wasn’t a market day so you can see some of the kiosks closed up. I made some small talk with the mamas near the tomatoes and then we were on our way out.
Tala isn’t particularly beautiful. It’s not very safe after dark. There are over 100 bars which sell legal and illegal brews. It’s hot and dry (… dusty). But it’s home!
You can see the rest of the photos on my gallery here: http://thefro.org/gallery2/v/2009/tala/