Saturday, October 24, 2009

Turkana evenings

We made it back from a long day of collecting. At 4:30, everyone gathered around the table under the afternoon shade tree for Tea Time - one of Kenya's best holdovers from Colonial Britain. The tea leaves were Ketepa leaves, "Kenya's finest," cooked with water and powdered milk and a liberal spoonful or three of sugar. About three weeks into the season, Benson realized that I preferentially chose the green mug. That became Irene's mug! Stephen, the best cook in Turkana, had made us some exciting snack - some days, mandazi shaped like mandazi, other days, shaped like donuts. The days when we'd get samosas were wildly exciting, as were spring roll days. Sometimes we'd get sweet injera, sometimes we'd get gingersnap biscuits. Sometimes we get corn muffins, sometimes we'd get the equivalent of oreos with mango flavored cream filling. I'd always grab one or two of the snacks, and the Kenyans would ALWAYS try to get me to eat more.

Immediately after tea, I'd take care of water and beverages. Siphoning out water from our giant drums was easy when we'd just gone to the well, but by the end of the second day, I had to suck the water out of the hose - with varying degrees of success. Generally, there was someone around to come to my rescue. After dealing with the water, I'd fill the red basin (the laundry one) with some water, and pluck the beverage socks from the acacia tree. I had the drink orders down to pretty much a science. Coke for Matthew, Jonathon, and me. Stephen and Fritz, and usually Tony, would get Krest. Pilsner for Tab and Bonventure, and Tusker for Martin, John Mark, Boniface, and Benson. Those would get stuffed in the wet socks and hung from a netting where they'd cool until dinner.
Erin's most important job by miocyon.

After tea, I generally sat at the table, working on reading Kaburi Bila Msalaba, a Kenyan novel for 13- or 14-year-olds about the Mau Mau war. It's in Swahili, so it was slow going, but the Turkana guys all read it in secondary school and helped me with words or grammar. Some evenings, I'd my advisor cataloging fossils. Other evenings, I read from our mini-library of American books. I brought American Gods, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, and Infinite Jest. Someone brought Angels and Demons - that kept me occupied the day I couldn't swallow water so I had to stay home from collecting. There was also a wildly depressing book on the Iraq War called The Forever War which I read in two days and got sad... and Tony let me read a book he had on the drug trade in Baltimore. Evenings when I didn't feel like reading, I'd write in my journal, or talk to Benson about Kenyan politics.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On clothing

I'm wearing my favorite skirt today - very comfortable, moderately swirly, goes with everything from tank-top to nice sweater and in between. I happen to be wearing it today with a t-shirt and scarf (it's cold in St. Louis! And I just bought this new scarf that matches the t-shirt, all very exciting. Plus wearing scarves with t-shirts is something white people like), but it's making me nostalgic for Turkana once again.

While we were in the field, I had two pairs of shorts I particularly liked, a green pair and a brown pair. They were longer than regular shorts, they were rugged, etc. By the time midseason rolled around, they were practically the same color! Fortunately, when paired with the always stylish tanktop/white men's dress-shirt combination, they was flashy and exciting! Well, I always looked a little ridiculous, especially with the hiking boots and socks, the occasional huge hat (once I donated my Yankees hat to the guys, Neil wrangled up a huge ridiculous hat for me to wear), and the inevitable accumulation of dust.

We would send laundry into Loperot about once a week, and John Mark's sisters washed it. I felt pretty awkward about it, so would do my own laundry in the little red basin and hang it out to dry on the acacia behind my tent.
Thinking of the laundry tree that fruits wherever there are big groups of wazungu still makes me giggle (not all of the clothes in that picture are mine - my acacia was a good tree for hang
ing clothes on because it had a lot of smaller, lower branches which were especially good for socks!). You'd have to be careful to shake out your clothes really well after they dried, though, because almost invariably a few thorns would break off of the tree and get caught in your shirt, or your shorts, or your underwear.

All this talk about clothes is to say that I wore shorts all summer. I'm not a big shorts wearer in the real world, so this was the most time I've spent concurrently in shorts probably since I was a little kid. The first thing I did when we got back to Lokichar was go into my room at the Lokichar Guest House and put on my comfy skirt - the one I'm wearing right now! I came back outside, and Jonathon and Stephen (our mechanic and cook, respectively), stopped and stared.
"Irene! You look like a girl!"
"I looked like a girl all summer!"
"No you didn't! And how did you know how to dress like an African woman?"
"You mean the skirt and a t-shirt? That's what I wear in the USA all the time."
"You look like an African woman! People will start thinking you are a Turkana, And then they will hear you speaking Swahili and Turkana, and say to themselves, 'What is this? Is she an mzungu or a Kenyan?'"