Food, Kenya

I just realized the other day that I only have eight months left here in Kenya. Not that I’m counting down, but because I arrived in October, 2007 I should be leaving in October, 2009 I guess. I haven’t decided if I will leave early or extend a bit. Since I came back from the evacuation after last year’s post-election violence I have steadily become a full-time lecturer at the college. That’s important to note because we will have a semester beginning in August/September or so, and if I leave in October I will leaving more-or-less in the middle of the semester. Not cool! So we’ll just have to play it by ear… whatever that means, haha.

Alan at Musau's chemist
Alan at Musau’s chemist
I’m very used to life in Tala these days. I walk around like a local and it shows. When I walk into any of the cafes I can just make some small talk and then say, “Kama kawaida” (“like usual” in Swahili) to get my tea and chapati. Even my afternoon students know that after class I’ll either be going to eat chai/chapati or Kisumu ndogo. Kisumu ndogo, which means “small Kisumu” in Swahili, is a place in Tala where you can eat delicious fried fish. It comes in small pieces, served with ugali (corn meal staple food) and some kachumbari (kinda like salsa fresca). Tala’s a funny place, a few months ago I noticed a new place called Kisumu kubwa (big Kisumu), which serves whole fish. Kisumu, by the way, is a town in Western Kenya on Lake Victoria, and the people there are known to eat a lot of fish.

I took some friends to eat samaki (“fish”) yesterday and it felt like I was a tour guide or a local resident, walking around greeting people in Kiswahili and Kikamba, taking my friends through the back streets to my favorite spots. They’re four young German volunteers who stay somewhere around Tala. I had been seeing them for some time, always waving from a distance but never really running into them. Last week I crossed paths with one and we exchanged numbers, so this week we made plans to get together in the market and hang out. They’re all in their early twenties and pretty funny, so we have a lot in common and had a lot to talk about. We ate a few rounds of fish and then had chai/chapati before they had to get going. I don’t know if I’ll see them much, but it was at least nice to laugh and talk with some other young people doing something similar to what I’m doing.

On another related note, I am going on a small trip to Fourteen Falls with Pat, the Peace Corps volunteer from the next town over, tomorrow. I saw that Mark, the previous VSO volunteer here, had gone there with one of his buddies in 2005, so I’ve been meaning to go but plans kept falling through.

So stay tuned for some more pictures. I’m off to drink some tea and finish my notes for Monday’s Unix class. Maybe I’ll also watch some “TV” on my laptop.


I met a new mzungu a few days ago.  She’s Pat, and she’s a Peace Corps volunteer in Nguluni, a very small town a few kilometers from Tala.  I’ve never been there, but I pass by it in matatus all the time.  Maybe this will give me an excuse to go there.

She’s working at Kenbric Vocational Training Centre. They’ve had Peace Corps volunteers before, well at least one that I know about.  He was around when Mark (the previous VSO volunteer at my placement) was around.  I never met the guy, but Sara and I used to see him when we first got to Tala a little over a year ago.

I run into her every so often in our college’s “Cyber Cafe” or walking to Tala.  We made plans to go eat chapati and drink tea in Tala this coming Saturday morning.

Her blog is located at, go check it out!

Kenya, Rants

Lately a lot of people have been asking me for money, and it’s getting really annoying. Sometimes it’s, “give me twenty shillings” and other times it’s, “buy for me tea” or, “give me your bike.” I have so many experiences with this, nearly ten in the last two days, that I hardly even know where to start!

Today was a long day at work because my class wasn’t until after lunch, and then I talked for nearly two hours, waving my hands, writing on the board, breathing chalk dust, etc. After work I walked to the market to drink a cup of tea and eat a chapati. It’s only one and a half kilometers, but the hot African sun scorches my nose and neck and there’s a gauntlet of children yelling at me along the side of the road almost the whole way. Sometimes they yell, “Alan!” and other times it’s, “Mzungu!” or, “Wewe!” (Swahili for “you”). Even after you wave they keep yelling, and it’s really annoying when you’re walking with someone trying to have a conversation. The other day a rock/clod of dirt hit me in the face and I swear it was one of those kids (but I can’t prove it).

After arriving safely to the market I headed to the cafe I’ve been having tea at lately. It just so happens that the cafe is next door to the barber shop where I normally get a shave and hang out to kill time, so I went to greet people. The owner mentioned that they wanted me to buy them tea, to which I laughed, but he persisted. He said that he knew I was about to go drink tea and eat chapati. After that, how could I then go have tea next door without feeling guilty? So I proceeded to another of my usual cafes where I saw a certain mzee (respectful title for an old man) who was eager to greet me. He’s always really nice and I see him almost every day, but he doesn’t speak much English and my Swahili is better-suited for speaking with small children. I sat down at his table and made some small talk, inquiring whether he had already had tea; bado, “not yet.” I asked if he wanted chapati and he said something about it costing a lot of money, so I told him I’d buy for him.

As we were eating, a drunk (or crazy) guy started greeting me and asking for tea and chapati. I tried to tune him out but I still heard him telling me “God will punish you” and other crazy things like, “I am Kenyan.” He even came over to me to insult/beg to my face and I had visions of him throwing my tea at me. I tried to tell him to leave me alone and to go away (in Swahili), but this only made him more excited. Luckily a waiter saw him and shoed him away.

This stuff is entirely typical, though. Yesterday I was walking to a little restaurant to buy some fried fish and ugali and an annoying woman ran over and started following me. This woman is always nagging me. Every time I walk by she jumps up to come talk to me, dismissing whoever I’m talking to, pretending we have some pending business to attend to, “Alan, I want to talk to you about something.” She ended up following me several blocks to the restaurant, “Alan, I know you’re going to eat fish. Buy for me.” I’ve ceased to be courteous with this lady, so I just responded, “Linda, I will not buy you fish. I want to eat alone. Please leave me. You can walk that way now.” Another day she asked me to “just give me 100 shillings.” When I declined she made a big scene asking me over and over “why?”

Also typical: someone asks me to buy them food or tea and I see they’re chewing miraa (qat, a narcotic plant) in their pocket. I’ll joke with those guys and tell them that I can see they’re already eating some sukuma wiki. It’s probably rude, but how can I buy ten shillings of some leafy green vegetables when they’re spending 100 shillings on drugs? I’m not the morality police, but don’t ask me for ten shillings when you’ve blown 100 on drugs.

Just another day in Kenya I guess.