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. Continue Reading
This goat is the king of Tala’s market (or at least he walks around like he owns the place). I’m not sure how old it is, but I’ve been seeing him for nearly two years now. That means it has lasted through at least two Christmas and two Easter feasts. A colleague of mine swears the goat has an owner, and I guess he’s probably right, but what gives? If it has an owner, it’s oblivious of the fact; this goat is does what it wants when it wants to! I took these pictures yesterday as I was walking home with my buddy Sammy (the jamaa (“dude”) in the shorts). I even saw it again tonight. I tried to take a picture of it last week but my phone’s battery had died. Good thing too, because my buddy was calling me a tourist, haha!
One afternoon I took a back route home from the market and I saw a girl relaxing on a blanket and smoking some weed; there was nobody else around, but the goat was proudly standing just a few feet away from her. I just cracked up. Another time I walked past a church crusade (singing, dancing, evangelizing) on a Sunday in Tala’s market, and it was standing right behind the crowd of people, as if to remind onlookers of that age-old duality of good versus evil. Yet another time I was leaving the market a bit late and I saw it just chillin’ in the public transit terminus (a bit creepy because it was dark, the wind was blowing, and the market was nearly deserted). Besides, look at the horns on this thing!
We’re used to it by now, but it never ceases to crack me up. Crazy Tala!
The Tala-Kangundo highway from Nairobi is terrible. It seems as if the road is in a constant state of decline. I find myself often commenting to strangers, “Hii bara bara ni mbaya sana” (“this road is very bad”), it’s a great ice breaker. We laugh and speculate about whether someone will tengeneza (“repair”) it any time soon, and then my Swahili vocabulary is just about extinguished. Side note: it’s hard to be funny when using a language which you have only mastered up to the level of the local toddler.
Certain sections of the road are worse than others. One spot in particular, between Kantafu and Koma Hill, is pretty consistently hideous. I was returning to Tala today and noticed a throng of young men with shovels crowding around one of the rough areas just before Koma Hill. As we got closer I saw them start jumping and shouting. I heard the driver yell something about kumi (“ten”) to the conductor, who then stuck his head out the window, presumably to toss the boys a ten shilling coin (ten shillings can buy a cup of tea, and for reference, we pay 100-150 shillings fare from Nairobi to Tala). The driver then commented, “Wamefanya vizuri” (“they’ve done it well”). It’s true, the pot holes had been filled in with sand and rocks and leveled out, making that section much more pleasant, at least for a little while. The pay is far from flattering, but those dudes on the road side are entrepreneurs; they alone are responsible for the few “repairs” I’ve ever seen made to that road in the two years I’ve lived in Tala.
It’s kinda ridiculous that those youths scooping sand and rocks from the road side constitutes road repair. I’ve never seen any official work being done on that road. I guess it’s not so bad compared to other major roads I’ve traveled in Kenya, though. Western Kenya, terrible. Kajiado-Namanga, terrible. Kangundo-Machakos, terrible. Tala-Thika, terrible. Northern Kenya, what road? I always wonder, “It’s not like Kenya is poor, why doesn’t the government fix these roads?” There is a lot of money in Kenya but it’s apparently in the hands of the wrong people (the government, ironically. See my post on the Kings of Kenya).
Also ironic, the roads in Central province are pretty sweet. President Kibaki comes from there… coincidence or conspiracy?