A few Nairobi VSO volunteers got together to have a small Christmas thingy. Randi and I are, of course, a very entertaining duo so we were invited. We decorated a small tree, told stories, and had a nice meal. Sandy is a professional when it comes to brownies and I do spin a mean salad (salad spinner!). There are no pictures of me, which is good because I just got a haircut and it looks a bit dorky (so count on me wearing a hat for any pictures in the next few weeks).
Randi’s been here almost two weeks now, and I’ve taken her to all the local joints that I know. She is even starting to crack people up with funny Swahili jokes, recognizing streets, matatus, etc. We didn’t plan so well, but tomorrow we’re definitely on the move to Tanzania. It’s been a hectic week but we’ve booked two tickets for Arusha for Christmas morning. Who knows if we’ll be able to find matatus to town at 5:30 in the morning, but we’ll go a bit early just in case. The tickets are only 1,000 shillings each (about 12 US dollars), so I guess we could just try again on Saturday if we are unlucky. If all goes well we’ll be in Arusha by lunch time. Arusha ain’t no thing cuz I’ve been there a fewtimes.
I haven’t been on hiatus, I’ve been on holiday! Actually I’ve been working a lot, but I did make it across the border this past weekend for a little rest and relaxation. One thing I realized during my 24-hour stay in Tanzania was that my Swahili is permanently Kenyan-ized. I’ve already accepted that I’m nowhere near fluent by Kenyan standards, but I’m a disaster by Tanzanian standards. You see, after their independence, Tanzania embraced Swahili as the national language in order to unite their country as a common people, no longer colonized and no longer a collection of tribes — they were Tanzanians now! Kenya chose both Swahili and English, and while people here do speak Swahili, it’s kinda a watered-down, English-ized version (“sheng”). Kenyans even make fun of Tanzanian Swahili because it’s a chore to speak correctly, it’s boring, and it even sounds funny because it’s so polite. And I know it’s terrible, but I do too.
I borrowed this book from another volunteer and sped through it during my travels through Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda a few weeks ago. I’ve seen tons of books in this genre since I’ve been in Kenya. If you have been to a bookstore recently you know the type: it’s kinda like a “new age” travel writing, but instead of martinis and beach resorts you get rebel militias, cow dung, and grass huts. Last year I read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, where he spent a few months traveling by land from Egypt to South Africa (and every country in between). During Kenya’s post-election violence earlier this year I read Emma’s War, about a VSO volunteer in Sudan who married a rebel warlord and lived in the bush with him and his militia. Sara read one about a white European woman who ended up marrying a Maasai warrior and living in the bush with him (The White Maasai). There’s no shortage of this stuff, and I bet they are selling like hot cakes in Western book shops!
Having said that, if you’re looking for a foray into this genre, I will recommend Aidan Hartley’s The Zanzibar Chest. It’s a great mix of politics, history, and travel (in a weird sort of way). The author is a white Kenyan, the son of a long line of colonial British officers, who writes about his experiences tramping around Africa as a war correspondent for various news wire agencies. He’s a great writer and he has a decent sense of humor. Not the “Knock knock, who’s there?” type, but more like the way he perceives things and his matter-of-fact presentation of some pretty far-out situations. For example, he was walking through a remote village in Somalia and he sees an old man strolling into the market with a swarm of bees following him. His guide tells him that the old man had hid the queen bee in his turban so the entire colony was following him—a great trick to get your bees to the market for sale!