I realized that I would most likely loosen up a bit when I came to Kenya, but I had no idea just how much I had crossed over to the dark side until I saw it reflected in the eyes of our new (well, no longer new since it took me so long to post this) volunteer Paulina. Allow me to elaborate on a few of the choicer incidents.
One of the other volunteers, Paul, and I headed to Nariobi to pick up our volunteer Paulina, who came in a couple days before Christmas. We arrived at the airport with one of our taxi drivers that we hire regularly, and are therefore quite comfortable with. Paulina’s plane was due to arrive at 9:30pm, so allowing for customs and baggage claim (plus, we‘re on Kenyan time now), we were still quite early when we arrived at 9:45. We jostled for a position at the packed international arrivals gate, elbowing representatives from safari companies and hustling taxi drivers, all holding up their personalized signs, hoping that the group of white holiday tourists walking through the sliding doors belonged to them. At one point, I had the very certain feeling that the taxi driver behind me was over exaggerating the push from the crowd behind him and using it as an excuse to inappropriately lean into me, but nothing could distract me from my assignment. After 45 minutes of waiting and holding our Flying Kites sign up at every scared looking white girl that walked into the sea of Christmas travelers, we became slightly concerned and Paul began making periodic walk-throughs of the terminal. After 90 minutes of waiting, I pulled out my phone to call Sarah and let her know we had an AWOL volunteer.
Turns out, she had arrived about the time we arrived, but British Airways had lost her luggage and she was held up with the baggage claim office for a while. Looking back, I remember how terrified I was when I arrived that there would be no sign with my name on it when I walked through those doors. I blame myself for not remembering this feeling as I held up the sign for Paulina. She must have walked out of those doors, shaking with exhaustion, done a cursory glance for her name, and, upon not seeing it, walked away in despair. LONG STORY SHORT – we found her huddled and shaking like a kicked puppy in the café in the corner of the terminal, and walked outside to find our cabbie. Funnily enough, he was not to be found. Of course, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. No cab driver that we trust? No big deal. Flash back to my arrival nearly two months earlier when I almost died in my seat when my van had a fender bender on the way out of the parking lot. We call Anthony, and find him in a different spot than we left him, but still there, patiently waiting. We load up Paulina, minus one bag, and begin our journey to our hotel in Nairobi, 20 minutes away.
Ten minutes later, Anthony curses, and pulls over to the side of the road. Poor Paulina, tears threatening to spill over, after 15 hours of sleep deprivation and near abandonment in an international airport at 11 o’clock at night 2 days before Christmas looks at me in bewilderment. Turns out, we’re out of gas. No worries, we’ll just chill on the side of the road for a while (please refer to my first blog post to recall how I would have reacted two months ago). A short while later, a few men with machine guns slung casually on their shoulders saunter up to the car. The attack-inducing anxiety failed to rear its ugly head, and I relished the surprise delay as a chance to close my eyes. I’m used to machine-clad police here, but alas, Paulina is not. No big deal, we have a friend arriving with petrol. 45 minutes later, we’re on the road (I’m so screwed when I get back to the states. Kenyan time is on an approximately 300% delay).
The following morning, on our drive from Nairobi to Kinangop, we drove passed a police paddy wagon with a dead body chained inside. Anthony informs us that the news of the shooting was on the radio – apparently the guy was a “robber” and was killed after a shootout with the police. Poor Paulina – she probably wished she was back with her 2nd bag in London Heathrow.
[Update: I have since been banned from picking up any new volunteers from the airport. While there was no specific reason given for this removal of responsibilities, this was one of those instances in which silence can speak louder than words]
First Night at the Centre:
It’s Paulina’s first night at the centre, and everyone’s starving. We have stocked up on REAL food at Nakumatt, and asked our matron to cook pasta for us. In addition to the pasta, we get a stew-like soup with veggies and potatoes. When we see the surprise in the pot, we all get super excited. I eat two bowls of the stew, so excited for the delicious variety in our meal. Paulina, on the other hand, eats a small bowl of pasta and butter. She couldn’t even touch the stew with a 10 foot pole. I’m not saying it is bad by any standards. But to be fair, it’s probably not first class cuisine. Still. Anything is better than rice, cabbage and ugali.
I wrote a bit about driving in Kenya a while back. The other day I was in a Land Rover (veryyyy VIP for Kenya) for a short ride, and complained to Sarah that driving in this car was so boring and uneventful, I was almost hoping we would hit a pedestrian or biker just to mix it up a bit. That’s how mundane driving has become to me. I used to close my eyes and put on my iPod anytime I entered a vehicle. Now, it’s not a fulfilling ride unless we play at least 5 games of chicken. I have learned to love the bars on the windows – gives me something to hold on to. I’m screwed when I get back to the states. I may or may not get 10 traffic tickets over the course of 2 months. Many of them will probably be for driving on the wrong side of the road. I won’t lie – I still freak out every time I think we’re going to tip over, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that fear (although, as soon as I enter the vehicle, I assess its tip-a-bility, and decide how nervous I can reasonably be, and what bodily harm I can expect in case of a tip-over. I‘ve also realized, that I increase my odds of keeping my eyes safe from any flying shards of glass if I keep my sunglasses on for the duration of the drive, regardless of the time of day. The sun never goes down in the land of the cool.) but the fact that I now face oncoming traffic as an adventure instead of a threat is definitely an improvement. I didn’t think I had made such big strides until we were in the car with Paulina for the first time and she flipped out every time we almost crashed. No big deal – it’s not worth breaking out in a cold sweat until you hear the driver swear. It’s kind of like flying; no need to assume the crash position until you see the flight attendants running for cover.
I have never and probably will never admit to liking the bucket shower, but I have certainly grown accustomed to it. Sarah, Paulina and I decided that Wednesday would be a bucket day. Sarah took hers first, and a while later, Paulina began to prepare for the “shower,” but needed some guidance. We patiently explained to her that it’s really very simple, you just get hot water from the matrons, dilute it till it’s your desired warmth, stand or squat (your choice), use the provided Tupperware as the means of rinsing your hair and body, and you’re good to go. 45 minutes later, Paulina emerged, shampoo still sticky in her hair, glared at us, and said “that was NOT as easy as you said it would be” and strode off to salvage what she could of her tangled mane. Oops.
When I’m lazy, which is quite often, I take a motorbike to and from the centre when I go into town. One day, after a particularly heavy rainfall, I hopped on back of a bike and told the man to hit it. About ¾ of the way up the dirt road, there is a hill. The bike began to fishtail; the thick mud from the rain in combination with the incline of the road = motorbike crash. To call it a crash is to completely overstate the situation, but I think it sounds more badass that way. In reality, the bike just kind of wobbled in place, and we fell over. Unfortunately, I was wearing shorts, so my entire leg was covered in mud, and there was a dull throbbing in my knee, but other than that I was fine. So, I walked to the top of the hill, waited for the motorbike man to catch up, attempted to brush off my dirt and blood smeared leg, and hopped right back on. I can guarantee that I wouldn’t even have been on a bike in the states, let alone hop back on after a “crash,” although to be fair, the bikes travel at like, 5MPH on the road to the centre, so it’s not a fair comparison. When Wombogo saw me, he started cracking up and told me I shouldn’t even bother showering anymore, because I can’t manage to stay clean for an hour. I have since used that as my excuse for cutting back on my personal hygiene.
Perhaps my personal favorite weird thing that has happened to me since arriving. A few weeks ago, I noticed a bite shaped rash on my collarbone. I made a note to keep an eye on it, and promptly forgot until a week later when it began to itch. Upon inspection in the mirror (which are so rare around here, I almost never see my reflection anymore – probably a good thing since I haven‘t had my eyebrows done since before I left in October, and I‘m quite certain I‘m beginning to resemble Ernie from Sesame Street), I realized that the rash had tripled in size, and was all red in the middle and flaky on the outside. Awesome. Upon revealing myself to everyone else, they diagnosed me with ringworm. Oh, is that all. Not unlike my motorbike accident, it’s really not as big of a deal as it sounds, but it’s just another one of those things that I have added to and promptly crossed off my bucket list as they have happened. Ringworm is a fungus that thrives in unwashed, sweaty places. It’s quite common among sports teams and on wrestling mats, so it’s not some weird African affliction – but still – it‘s called RINGWORM. Apparently it’s not uncommon for volunteers to get it on their collarbones, as that is where children often rest their (dirty sweaty) heads when they sit on your lap. While our children are definitely on the cleaner side, my mind immediately flashed to the assembly line of the unwashed masses who lean their heads against my collarbone in church on Sundays. One of the matrons picked me up the cream they use when the kids get it, and 2 weeks later, the shape of the rash has changed, and now it’s red and bumpy. No big deal, Joyce just picked up a different cream – if it’s not gone by the time I’m scheduled to come back to the states, I’ll just have to remember to wear a high collar when I walk through customs so I don’t get detained for trying to attempt a medical terrorist attack on my flight.