Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Story from Kenya

The drive from Nairobi to Kitale would have been fairly uneventful, except I didn't know how to use the bathrooms in the Delamere rest stop. Many toilets in Kenya, while attached to plumbing and such, are holes with footprints on either side. I guess this should be pretty self-explanatory, but I was intimidated and decided that I really could just wait until we stopped somewhere for lunch. Of course, there was no lunch stop, and there were no other rest stops. So 8 hours later, with perhaps the fullest bladder I have ever had, we arrived in Kitale and I made my way (quickly) to the restrooms in the hotel, only to find another hole with footprints on the side. This time, I got over my intimidation pretty quickly...

After a relaxing Tusker, which was certainly not paid for by the NSF, and the first of many meals of miboga (bila nyama - without meat) and chapati, we adjourned to bed where I slept the night beneath a shockingly blue mosquito net. The next morning, after I called my parents and woke them up, I went with Matthew, Stephen, and Jen to purchase all of our produce from the Kitale market.

The Kitale Market is perhaps a 10 minute walk from the Al Akara Hotel where we stayed. Kitale early on a Sunday morning is quiet - the only people out are dressed in nice clothes, walking to one of the many churches in the area. They have more important concerns than the two wazungu women walking with the two Kenyan men towards the market. Jonathon drives one of the trucks out to the market so that we can dump the produce directly in the truck bed - we pass the Hilux with the ridiculous orange tarp on the back as we're walking.

The Kitale Market is slowly getting started - women in kangas are unveiling huge piles of tomatoes, onions, papayas, mangos, potatoes, and an unlikely assortment of beans and grains. The mood is genial - old mamas joke with each other, the young mamas set up their children next to one another and flirt with the few men who are setting up shop. I am completely overstimulated, even with as few people here as there are. Jen, who has the money for this trip, follows behind Stephen (the cook, with the master list), and Matthew, who seems to know everyone here. I trail along behind, catching sidelong, curious glances from women, and sort of terrified stares from little kids.

Watching Matthew and Stephen bargain is truly impressive. Jen and my presence seems to be a handicap - a number of times, I hear something to the effect of, "Unataka bei ghali sana kwa sababu tuna wazungu!" (You're charging high prices because we're with white people), but the women insist that prices in Kitale are higher this year than last year because of the drought. Stephen is not impressed with this excuse, and Matthew argues prices down to what he deems more reasonable levels.

A few women stop to talk to me, and are amused when I answer them in Swahili rather than English. At this point in time, my Swahili is considerably more halting and stilted than it should be, but apparently still impressive enough for an mzungu wandering around the market. I get the name of a few little girls, and they amuse themselves staring at the hair on my arms for a while.

In the end, we spent just about 5,700 ksh on enough produce to fill the entire truck bed - a little less than $80 on huge amounts of potatoes, onions, mangoes, papayas, eggs, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, green beans, peas, pineapple, bananas, sugar, watermelon, chickpeas, oranges, cucumbers, and cabbage. Would you believe the only thing that didn't make it from Kitale to camp was the papayas? They were in the same bag as the watermelon and got properly squished.

Also of note, based on the Uganda articles from last night:
LRA Team in Peace Talks Resigns ... because Museveni wouldn't sign a temporary cease fire so that the LRA leader felt comfortable coming to the peace talks, so HE never signed the peace agreement.
IDPS in Northern Uganda (I believe they're talking about the Acholi in refugee/IDP camps) are exploiting forests and say they won't leave until they're given other productive land to live on. It's reminiscent of the upcoming removal (supposedly sometime soon) of illegal settlers from the Mau Forest in Kenya. Of course, there are people who are more powerful than the Ogiek community who were hanging out in the forest illegally, but that's a different story. It all goes back to Moi!

* The picture of the market was taking by Tony, who was also in Kenya this summer

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