Tag Archives: Nairobi

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.

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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!

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.