Kenya, Nature, Rants

First, there is no such thing as “lawn mowing” in Kenya (gotcha!). Second, unless you’re the the President of Kenya or the US Ambassador (they live in mansions with big lawns), there aren’t even any lawns to speak of. That’s not to say we don’t have grass. My goodness, there is grass for days and days! Forget Southern California, where strip malls and concrete effectively form one huge, 200-mile-long city; This is Kenya, bwana (“man”)! We have plenty of open space and it’s allllll grass (and sand, but that’s for another time)!

A cartoon lawn mowerI had an epiphany the other day while walking home through an empty field. It had rained a bit so there was mud all over the place. I remember thinking it was good the grass was low because it allowed me to avoid the mud. The funny thing is, I’ve never seen one lawn mower in Kenya. I don’t even think the two words “lawn mower” have entered my brain once at the same time in the last two years… The only place I’ve ever seen anyone cutting grass is in my backyard and on the college compound, and they do it by hand.
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Kenya, Rants

My name is “Alan,” and if you don’t know my name, please just say, “Hi!” or any of the other greetings you use on your fellow Kenyans. Jina langu si “British” or “mzungu.” I don’t know what your parents told you, but I don’t think white people like being called either of those names. In fact, in America, it’s borderline racist to yell someone’s ethnicity or nationality at them. You don’t see me walking around shouting “Kenyan!” at people.

I know it’s not a huge problem, but I walk two kilometers to the market every day; it’s like a gauntlet. People on the left yelling “mzungu,” on the right saying, “British, how are you?” and mamas instructing their babies to look at me, pointing openly. Sometimes I’ll even pass a group of high school boys and that is pretty intimidating (they’ll say things in groups that they’d never say if they were alone). I used to get annoyed and say things like, Mimi si British (I am not British) or “I am American” until I realized that, even if I was British, that’s no way to greet a person!

These days I usually just say Jina langu si mzungu (my name is not mzungu). This at least prompts some productive dialog like, “Ni nani?” (it’s who?). The little kids honestly don’t know any better, so I just smile and wave, but the teenagers should. After all, it’s considered a bit abusive to call other Kenyans by their tribe. Wewe mkamba, kuja hapa (You Kamba, come here).

To be honest, I used to get offended that they thought I was British (not that being American is anything to brag about)… but I don’t think they can tell the difference between someone who comes from the USA, Sweden, Germany, etc. It’s understandable, though, because I can’t tell the difference between a Kenyan and Ugandan or a Tanzanian. Funny enough, I’m almost positive a Tanzanian would be upset if I called him a Kenyan, so it’s a good thing I don’t go around calling people by their nationality.

Oh well, we all need something to complain about. That’s just life. Thanks for reading.

Food, Kenya, Rants

I had a funny experience in the market today: after work I went to buy some avocados and fresh corn for dinner. I found a group of mamas sitting near some vegetables so I greeted them and told them what I wanted. Just then it started raining so they invited me under their small shelter to sit on a bucket. I pointed to the maize, still in the husk, and said I wanted it but that I didn’t want to pick them off the cob. I struggled to explain this in Swahili, but I was getting close with the addition of some sounds and hand motions. I said I wanted mbili (“two”) corn and two avocados.

I again motioned that I didn’t want to pick the corn off the cob, and could she? When she understood she started laughing, then I started laughing. This attracted a small crowd of baby-carrying mamas, to whom the corn lady spoke some Kamba (the local language) and whose babies I greeted in said vernacular, and then broke the cobs in half and distributed them to the crowd for picking. As we were laughing and they were picking, I noticed there was quite a number of people eye balling our little corn-picking party. The team finished quickly and professionally (I tried it once a few months ago and I gave up, and roasted the corn instead). I gave them a bit of extra money for helping me pick the corn, and then we made some small talk and I said, “Thank you,” and, “see you later!”

These mamas are the backbone of Kenya. Kabisa (“completely”).