Saturday, November 22, 2008

-I like to ride my bicycle-

It has been a while since I’ve updated, pole sana.

Today was wonderful. We went to Naivasha for the day (about one hour outside of Nairobi), to a cute little lakeside restaurant right on Lake Naivasha. We spent the day relaxing, and a several of us rented bikes for an hour and went off roading past donkeys and bathing children and fisherman to get a great view of the lake. It felt so good to get on a bike again, and it was beautiful! After a picnic lunch we all went on a boat into the lake, in which we saw several hippos. Unfortunately, we got sprayed with the lake water because of choppy waves, so here’s to hoping we don’t have bilharsia, a parasite that is in all fresh still water in East Africa and burrows into your skin, enters your blood stream, and sets up shop in your liver. Yay! :-)

Otherwise, I’ve been more stressed in the last week or two than I have been in my entire college career. Not that the work is harder than AU, but being in Kenya makes every simple process ten times harder than it should be. It takes me three hours daily to travel to and from school or work, and two days out of the week I don’t get home until 9pm, after leaving the house at 7am. And being in Town during rush hour sucks the life out of you, so by the time you get home you just want to watch some West Wing, drink some chai, and fall asleep. So I’ve been miserably stressed the last fortnight, and it looks like it’s not slowing down before I leave for travel.

There are some great travel plans in the making though! Next week from Thursday to Sunday I plan on going to Uganda, where I will be white water rafting Level 4 and 5 rapids on the Nile. Ahh! Me and five other girls are going over our self-created Thanksgiving Break—we only get Friday off, but we got excused from USIU by explaining that this holiday held “very important cultural meaning” to us. Then after finals the entire program is hopping on a train to Mombasa, the second biggest city in Kenya that is on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We will be staying for a week in a resort and finally being using those shorts we packed! Finally, after Mombasa I will be heading down to Tanzania with a couple of friends, where I will be spending a couple of days in Arusha. And no, I will have absolutely no money when I return to the States.

On the whole, this blog has been very positive about my experience here. And that’s because, on the whole, I’ve loved being here. But I think it’s important, since this is something I can look back on after I’m back, to record the frustrations I’ve been feeling. So here they are! I’m tired of being a mzungu, being a money sign, being a sex symbol. I want to walk down a street and just be Erin, or at least just be a person walking down the street. I’m tired of the rude gestures and comments that I experience almost everyday.
Also, I’m getting really really tired of the anti-Americanism. Now, I’ve never been much of a patriot, and there are plenty of reasons to dislike U.S. foreign policy. But I’m tired of being told I have no culture. I was in fact told this last week by a fellow intern who is French. She said this while listening to American rap music, a distinctly American cultural movement and followed up by saying that she really wanted to go to Canada. Also, Kenyans are outraged that America put a travel advisory (read: warning) on Kenya following the post-election violence. They think it’s because we hate Kenya. Actually, it’s because over 2,000 Kenyans were being slaughtered by their neighbors and police force. But I’m being sensitive at this point. Grr.
I’m tired of being in a place that doesn’t work. And it doesn’t. Development is never going to fully work and people are never going to escape poverty as long as there is no revolution here. The government is horrible, full of bribes and people that don’t give a shit about what happens to their people. People are resigned to it, there is no fighting spirit left in the population. Nairobi hasn’t had an urban growth plan in 30 years, and is growing at a rate too fast for any city services to function. When I return people will tell me I’m pessimistic, but this is reality, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Development is not what they teach in classes or put on TV. And I’m glad I know that even if it means I’m more cynical, because now I will approach development in a realistic way that might actually help some people.

West Wing time!

Friday, November 7, 2008

We are sisters now?

I’ve gotten a lot of questions regarding my election experience here in Kenya, so here it is...

Kenyans are the most politically aware people I’ve ever seen. It’s sadly ironic, considering that such an engaged and active population is stuck with such an unresponsive, old, and bigoted government. Kenyans don’t believe in their system anymore (how can you when people sell their vote for loaf of bread so that they can feed their children?), so they’ve been focusing all of their excitement on the U.S. election. To have a black man running the U.S., much less a ½ Kenyan, is the most exciting thing that’s happened here in decades!

For election day the students in my program were invited to the U.S. ambassador’s house, where he was having a huge party starting at 5am on Thursday (note time difference). They set up huge TVs all over the place and had food, drinks, and a mock election. We camped out in front of a TV and watched the results come in while explaining to the Kenyans sitting next to us what the electoral college is and what happens if there’s a tie. When Obama was announced the winner, everyone went crazy, shouting and jumping and hugging, Kenyans, Europeans, and Americans alike. As he gave his acceptance speech, we were crying. (Kudos for McCain’s classy concession speech, btw). Exhausted from staying up all night, we went for a nice American breakfast; as we walked through Nairobi, people cheered as we passed and shouted Obama! That night, we went out to celebrate, all wearing red, white, and blue. Anyone else who has lived abroad can understand how crazy that is; before that day, one would never ever even consider doing that. How freeing.

As I was walking to my internship later that day, an old Kenyan woman approached me, a “mama” as we call them. She quietly said Obama!, and I responded Obama! She smiled, held my hand, and said, “We are sisters now”, and walked away.

Yesterday was National Obama Day, so there was no work or school. Only in Kenya, seriously.

While I’m so happy that this barrier to understanding has dropped here in Africa, I’m quickly tiring of Kenyan’s narrow minded support of Obama. In reality, they would hate him if he wasn’t African. Most Kenyans think that gayness is an American disease and doesn’t deserve the time of day in politics, and that they don’t deserve rights (there’s an 8 year prison sentence for being gay here!). Obama disagrees. Most Kenyans don’t believe in abortion, and several thousand women die here every year due to poorly performed illegal abortions. Obama disagrees. It’s obviously so important for them symbolically, but I’ll be curious how they feel two years down the road when they realize he’s pro gay and women’s rights and when they realize he’s American first, not Kenyan. We’ll see.

In conclusion, this was an amazing experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I’m so glad I decided to peace out of D.C. for the semester and have this once-in-a-lifetime event. And I’ll be back for inauguration in the spring yay!