….every day i enjoy Kenya more and more. But, it’s not so much about what i see, but rather than the learning process which breaks down the barriers, prejudices, ignorance or just simple unfimiliarity with this country and people. I feel, i am personally on a very individual level pushing the boundaries, leaving the comfort zone and opening up new horizonts. They say that we are afraid of what we dont know. To apply this saying to my case, i think, that fear or rather the discomfort or doubts are slowly leaving me. Though, i would not mix this with coutiousness. Open eyes and attention to detail is extremely important here.
On Saturday morning i wanted to go to the Kibera slum which is apparently one of the biggest ones in Kenya and is located in Nairobi city. However, as i did not manage to make all my arrangements on time (but i really hope, i will have a chance to do it next weekend or so), i went for a 3 hours long walk in the central Nairobi. Apparently, this was something which white people normally dont do, especially women and alone. Taxi drivers were offering me to drive where i need and people where asking if I am lost. No, i said, i am just walking around. And, i must say, in the central Nairobi it’s really nice and relatively safe, especially during the day. I saw maybe 5-6 white people thus this allowed me to imagine how black people may feel in white societies. People looking or gazing at you, observing, greeting me and starting conversation… at times it feels strange, but i did not feel any negativity. My only feeling was – guilt. Guilt of having this Nikon photo camera which i am afraid of taking out of my bag, because few metres from me there are people who probably struggle to get enough food. Guilt of having this luxury to live the life i have, do what i do and be who i am.There was one girl i met twice while walking (i am still wondering, maybe she followed me?) and when we met second time we had a little chat about things. She was very keen to get a shcolarship for Master degree studies in the Netherlands. She believes, that with that education she would have better future prospects.
In so many ways this walk reminded me about Latvia in late 80s and early 90s when the transition to market economy took place and so called ‘shock teraphy’ resulted in increased numbers of unemployed, poor and desperate to earn something, booming construction and skyrocketing prices (do you know who can buy here flats for 200k GBP?). Grey economy which is flourishing in Nairobi is their survival strategy selling small items on streets, or on the roads during the traffick jams (it’s heartbreaking to see children between cars risking their lives trying to sell something) or having police to charge you an ‘informal tax’ to avoid problems. These huge contrasts between the high office buildings and the slums, posh cars and rikshaws, restaurants and street food are so obvious and so close to each other. Moreover, i am not sure if this is a remain of colonial times, but this servants’ culture is so common here and i struggle to accept that. I can imagine that if you have a 10 bedroom house and you work 40 hours day and you have 3 kids, you may not have much time for cleaning and cooking, but i see even very small families having servants. is this a kind of a generational revenge? Do these servants ever get out of the servant’s fate?
This day i also realized that crossing a 4 lane road at red light is not that complicated. it’ s like with everything – practice, practice, practice. 🙂 As i said it already earlier, traffick lights are often for guidance only. And as a label on one car said “Relax. God is in control!” Regarding driving I also learnt, that you have to get your own taxi driver, whom you trust and who rewards you with reasonable taxi rates. Taxi driver Michael, who took me that day to the centre and back and to the airport promised to pick me up in the airport when i will come back from Sudan next week. We made a deal. I hope, he will keep his word.
What i also have found when talking to Kenyans is this extraordinary ‘church-going’ culture and high infidelity in society. some surveys say, about 90% of married people cheat and it’s just getting worse and worse. They are apparently also more worried about getting pregnant rather than HIV/AIDS. So, what’s the point of going to the church and knowing the Commandments, if they are not taken into account in daily life?
I still have not had a chance to go to a proper market though i am actually delaying to the last days of my trip. Before that i am trying to learn about bargaining which is apparently an obligatory and natural part of the shopping. In markets i have been advised to divide the initially offered price by 4 and then start from there down. But again, i have not tried it yet, as i feel a bit guilt trying to give less to someone who already does nto have much. especially, when it’s about actually really insignificant items and prices.
What i also have found is that Latvia is not something everyone immediately recognizes, therefore i have started to use more often such references as Norther Europe or just simply London to make the dialogue short 🙂 But in relation to Africa, my small dear Latvia is not that innocent as it may seem. Back in 17th century we had two(!) colonies: one in South America – Tobago and the second one in Africa – Gambia. I wonder, if there is any heritage left from those days. So, a little apology on behalf of Latvia from myside to Africa as well.
I am off to Sudan now and if things go as planned i should be back in Nairobi in one week.