Tales from Africa

I have been sitting in a cybercafe for 2 hours now and haven’t come up with anything interesting… I need some time to figure out what to do with all my jottings. I spent a week teaching how to write stories in English and I feel like I can’t put one word after the other now…

Every student had to write a story and this is my favorite so far:

Once there was a poor man who lived with his wife in a certain town. One day a fairy came and promised to give them any three things they wished for.

Just as they were having tea the wife said:” I wish we had bread”. Immediately there was bread on her hands. The husband was very angry because the wife chose the bread instead of a long life. “I wish the bread goes into your nose instead of your mouth” he said.

The bread got stuck in the wife’s nose. It was uncomfortable and she could not breathe.

This short story is written by Patience, a student in class 5 at Mkombe Academy.

The experience at the primary school has been amazing and I have been welcomed very warmly by the children and teachers. Today I was given a red pen by the headmaster. There are only 5 red pens in the all school and holding one makes you a teacher at all effects. It’s the greatest award I’ve ever received.

Next week the Mkombe Olympic Games will take place, I will update you on that.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Liminality

Liminality in anthropological terms is the disorientation and ambiguity that occurs in the middle stage of a ritual. It’s the transitory process of someone who no longer belongs to a pre-ritual status but has not yet reached the status that will hold when the ritual is complete.

My liminality has been very intense and often frustrating – I guess it always is. I was on the borderline, I came to Kenya as a tourist, I was willing to be an anthropologist and I ended up being a volunteer. I prefer to think differently now, and not try to fall into a category. Whatever I was it made my experience unique and life-changing.

Pre-Ritual status: The tourist

I arrived in Nairobi on Sunday and moved to Mlolongo with Tom and Winnie the day after. Even though I was staying in a non-touristic area and in an unconventional accommodation I spent the first five days as a tourist: I visited a couple of museums in Nairobi, enjoyed a trip to Lake Naivasha with hippos, eagles and flamingos, visited the US embassy that has been blown up in ’98, went to the seaside near Mombasa and spent a lot of money in food and transports.

Thomas was my guide, our deal was that he would have shown me the central highlands area for a week in exchange of $200 and all the expenses –food, travel and accommodation. We immediately became good friends and agreed that all the saving we could make on a $600 budget will have gone in his wallet.

It turned out that he was renting a house in Bamburi, Mombasa therefore we decided to move to the coast on Thursday 19th of July. The 8 hours bus ride was very comfortable and the bus had a big screen showing funny African comedians; I’ve noted a joke on my notebook and stumbled upon it this morning. A Kenyan comedian called Pablo was talking about Kisumu where Obama is originally from. “Do you know what O.B.A.M.A. really Means?” He asked the crowd…

“One Black African Managing America!” I thought that was kind of funny… Wait, don’t forget about his name: “Barack: Born African Raised American Certainly Kenyan”.

We arrived in Mombasa at 7pm and after a 40minutes tuc-tuc ride we got to Bamburi. It was getting dark and most of the places look very dodgy when it’s dark. Tom was telling me that this particular district is less dangerous than Nairobi but you still need to be careful if you are white and people don’t know you. It happened that a Muzungu –white man- was given drugs with food and robbed. I was already pretty scared and when we got to the house there was no electricity, a strong odor and it was infested by cockroaches. I wanted to die.

Tom, who studied electrical engineer, went to fix the fuse while I was left alone in this beautiful scenery. Luckily my girlfriend called me and I had the opportunity to moan with someone and get some comfort.

One hour later the electricity was fixed and we went with some Muslim neighbors to celebrate the last night out before Ramadan kicked in.

On Friday we went to Bamburi Beach all day with the same friends and when we got back we watched a movie; I can’t remember the title but there is a quotation that really helped me changing mindset and coping with the first cultural shocks: “It’s all in the mind. Your vision creates your reality”.

I wasn’t enjoying being a tourist a lot and I think Tom realized I was looking for something more.

___

Today is Sunday and Winnie came to visit us. She doesn’t know about the house yet, it’s going to be a great surprise! She’s now waiting outside the cybercafe, I don’t have time to finish this post! Damn!

How to make an African Bed

Need a new bed? Tired of sleeping on wooden slats? Looking for something alternative?

Here a simple guide on how to make an African Bed with 1.000Ksh in 5 easy steps:

1. Go to Africa.

2. Find a Fundi (lit. a person who is learned) who can make a solid skeleton – 700Ksh – 7 Euro.

3. Buy 50 meters of coconut leaf rope. 300Ksh – 3 Euro.

4. Tie the rope around the skeleton as shown.

Nine times vertically

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then horizontally

____

5. Get a big friend to test it and enjoy your new bed!

Ciao!

Back to primary school

Tom has nine sibilings, the youngest is called Emmanuel and is attending the fourth year of primary school.Yesterday, while taking a break from the house building works, I followed him to school.

We walked for ten minutes on this road and finally reached Tezo Primary School.

There are 113 students and 4 teachers at Tezo Primary School. The first impression was really great, the children were playing football and as I approached the field everyone stopped and looked at me astonished.

I’m so grateful to have adventured myself on this road, these people are so enthusiastic and full of joy!

Tomorrow I’m going back to school, 10 o’clock English class and 2 o’clock Science. I will teach children in the fifth year how to use reported speech and why liquid expands when warmed up! It’s going to be exciting!

I also have a lot of projects that relates to Anthropology and the headmaster, Mr. Kaengo, gave me total freedom to carry out any kind of research.

I wasn’t expecting so many things to happen in such a short time. If you read this and you know something about anthropology and ethnography please leave a comment, I need your help! I have some ideas but when it comes to make them happen it’s not always easy so, I’m open to suggestions.

Last night I was talking to Tom and I had a great idea. In order to get an insight on their lives I would like to organize a writing/anthropology workshop where the students in the fifth grade will have the chance to learn how to draw a genealogy tree (all of them have at least 7 siblings) and to tell stories of their relatives. I will gain a lot of useful information about the tribes they come from and they will get the chance to practice their writing skills. I’ll probably need to buy some pens and A4 paper.

I am also tempted to give to some of them my camera and find out more about indigenous media.

I’m going to the beach now, this afternoon we’re hiring a lorry and move a sofa to the new house. I will finally move all my stuff to Kilifi!

Few pictures of the neighborhood:

__

Take care,

Marco

Building the house – Day 1

Things have turned out REALLY well for me.

Thomas and I have rented a house in Kilifi just one kilometer away from the beach. We have fixed the motorbike and we have bought enough cement to build a 4 bedrooms house.

I know for sure that the handshake we gave when I offered him some funding for the house was more than a business agreement. I have found a great friend that calls me brother, I’ve been welcomed by his family like the tenth son and I live in a place that is a paradise to me.

I first visited Kilifi Tezo, 7 kilometers in the hinterland forest, on Saturday 20th of July and I decided that if something had to be done there was no time to waste. We paid the neighbours 1.000 Ksh (£8) and when I arrived on Sunday morning people were busy digging the soil to remove all the weeds that accumulated in one year.

When I think of cheap labor I immediately think of exploitation and poverty. Paying such a small amount of money to make four people work eight hours  is a crime. With the Mijikendas is different; “It’s cheap labor because is home” Thomas once told me and what he meant was “Welcome, this is my community where we help each other and there’s no need to rely on money”.

This is what the plot looked like after a day of weed-cutting, the L shaped piece of ground you see on the right will be the guest room one day. We have enough cement to complete the house but we will probably need some more blocks; I’m planning to come back in December to do some research and keep working on the house.

On Monday we arrived early in Tezo and we helped the fundi (experienced builder) to make the cement. After a day of work the walls of two bedrooms were done.

 

The following weeks will be very interesting.

Moving with the Mijikendas

Before you read this post I want you to take a calculator and think.

I was meant to hire a driver for a week at the price of 30.000Ksh a day (30 Euro roughly). It makes 210Euro. An average hotel with no breakfast included costs from 20.000Ksh to 40.000Ksh per night. In a month it makes 60.000 (600 Euros) if you go for the budget choice. Food is cheap but at least 1.000Ksh per day if you want to eat good stuff. In a month is 30.000Ksh (30 Euro). If you add the cost of petrol and other transports the total in a month would get up to 1.000Euros (800British Pounds).

70 Bags of cement go for 30.000Ksh (300 Euros) and you can get enough stone blocks for 20.000Ksh (200 Euro). To hire a Fundi (experienced builder) for two weeks costs 7.000Ksh (70 Euro). 600 Euro or 500 Pounds is what you need to build a house.

My friend Thomas has a plot in a village on the coast, close to Kilifi. From the town you can get a motorbike and after 40minutes driving in the wild you reach a small paradise where lives a tribe called Mijikendas. People here live a simple life with cattle, harvesting maize and fishing. I’ve just got back from a trip to the village where I have been warmly welcomed. I decided to settle here, I’m going to live with the Mijikendas for the next three weeks (26 days), help my friend build his house and find out more about their culture. I wasn’t expecting to be so lucky and what’s more there is 3G coverage in the Kilifi area (due to the high number of tourists) which means I’ll be able to upload pictures and be more precise on youposition that has been kind of a failure so far.

Some Mijikendas have moved to the city but most of them still live a rural life and have rarely got in touch with a ‘modern’ man.

When I got to Bamburi, Mombasa three days ago I was pretty much shocked. The house where I was hosted was much bigger than the one in Mlolongo but infested with cockroaches and with no electricity due to a temporary failure. Thomas had just told me some creepy stories of Wazungu being given drugs and robbed. It was night and the village looked extremely dodgy. The following day I visited the town and the beach with daylight and looked much more chilled out than Nairobui but I was still feeling a strange pressure on me and I did not know what was going on. I think Thomas did notice that and today insisted for us to go and see his village and his tribe. I can’t find any word to explain the awesomeness of what I’ve seen and I still need to digest the idea that from tomorrow I’ll be living with a tribe and do the old style anthropologist.

I’m also learning some Kiswahili because English is not used much among the Mijikendas I met today.

Kesho Tunakula Mbata – Tomorrow we’ll eat duck.

I’m still speechless, from tomorrow I will start posting pictures hopefully.

Marco

Mlolongo, living the Kenyan life

It’s my fifth day in Kenya and I haven’t had the chance to sit in a cybercafe yet. I arrived in Nairobi late night on Sunday and after a good hour of waiting for my bag I met Thomas, the guy who was meant to be my guide. I had only spoken to him on the phone once and as agreed he brought me to a hotel in the outskirts on Nairobi. After a good chat on what to see, where to go and how we went to eat some goat’s meat with a beer.

Thomas has a wife called Winnie, she lives in village called Mlolongo – 20 minutes away from my hotel. Mlolongo used to be a roadside slum that underwent a great metamorphosis in the past years and saw the corrugated iron structures being replaced with proper stone building. A majority of the people living here today are either workers in the emergent industries all around the town, or people who commute to Nairobi. Nonetheless the perception of this town is always brothel-like among the public and it’s easy to see eyebrows going up when you mention this name.
I don’t know why exactly but I decided to accept Winnie’s offer, bought myself a pillow, a mosquito-net and moved in with Winnie and Thomas in a one bedroom flat with no shared, one gas stove, no ruinning water and only two rooms roughly 3×3 meters.

Anthropologists like to call it participant observation, travelers like to call it budget travel and on the web is getting famous as couch-surfing (in this case more floor-surfing). I have been welcomed like a member of the family and thanks to Thomas and Winnie I had the chance to get some really cool insights on the life in Kenya.

I haven’t got much time left -I’m in an Internet cafe in Bamburi, Mombasa and I’ve only got few shillings on me- but I need you to know a couple of things.

The traffic in Kenyan cities is CRAZY. There are 2 or 3 lanes on the road and everyone goes wherever he wants, there is no fast lane or whatever and the Matatu (local bus) drivers are often reckless. The Matatu is a mini-van that fits 15 people and brings you from one place to another. There is no bus stop so a bunch of people just gather on the side of the road -where you also have merchants, stray dogs and prostitutes- and wait for the mini-van to approach. A man holding notes between his fingers is usually shouting the destination and you need to be quick and jump on the Matatu before it fills up.

A bit random but I had the best chicken of my life on Tuesday night. Me and Winnie went to a local shop and picked a chicken from a cage. We took it home with us -alive- and I had the honor to butcher it! It was a kind of rite of passage to welcome me to the family. As a good media student that I am I took a video of me cutting its throat and plucking the feathers.  I cut my finger with a sharp knife while removing the interiors but Winnie cured me with a ‘special’ mixture on “things”. Is all good now.

If you’re worried about me, please don’t. I’m now getting used to be a Musungu (that’s how they call a white man in Swahili). I was a bit frustrated in the past hours, it’s not easy getting used to a new place especially when you’re alone but I’ve now reached the coast and I’m accomodated at Thomas’ house in Bamburi, Mombasa. The environment looks more chilled out than Nairobi and there are some Wazungu (white men, plural) living in the town.

I have a thousands other things to say and this is probably the most incoherent post ever, sorry about it. Hopefully I will have some more time in the next days.