Tag Archives: Swahili

Learning to live

I like the fact that most of the people ask me if my parents live in Kenya and think that I was brought up here. I am learning a lot of things and I’m totally immersed in what they call ‘traditional’ lifestyle.
Everybody has something to teach, but there is nothing like learning with the children.
They are everywhere, they are many and they are playing/learning 24/7.

When I’m not teaching at school I travel from place to place with Thomas. He likes to ride his motorbike through the bushes and I just sit back enjoying the panorama. Eventually we end up in remote villages where we visit uncles, grandparents and cousins that he calls brothers and sisters . Most of them live in huts made of mud and wood and live a humble but happy life.
When a visitor arrives is always welcomed very warmly and offered a chair with the elders. After some time I’ve learned to refuse that chair and sit on the ground with the youngest members of the family. As an outsider I have also great social mobility that allows me to learn everyone’s duties and to move around the village freely.

We don’t have electricity in the house and cooking is not easy with just a torch and a jiko. Tom and I are also very lazy and I got used to the fact that the reproductive labor is considered woman’s duty. We are often invited for dinner by neighbors and friends and I never refuse.

In my village in Kilifi lives Sidi. I’ve had dinner at her house for the past week.  She’s the greatest friend and the greatest Kiswahili teacher. She lives with her father Eddie who is the breadwinner in the family, her mother MamaSidi, her sister Kazo and Aunt Salama.

Sidi goes to kindergarten and will start primary school in September. She speak fluent Swahili and I speak fluent English. She speaks kidogo – a little- English and I speak kidogo Swahili. From her I’ve learned that the spoken word is only one of the thousands channels of communication available to human interaction and not necessarily the most efficient. I’m rediscovering the pleasure of living each action as a ritual, the pleasure of enjoying the very space where the bum lies because given by unspoken laws and not always chosen. She has taught me that simplicity is not poverty and I’ve started believing that a humble life can lead to real happiness.

Salama, MamaSidi’s sister, is in charge of cooking. She doesn’t speak any English and is a good way to test my improvements with the language. Salama cooks a lot and she loves it. I’m learning to cook the local way, one of my favourite dishes is Ugali with Fish and Kachumbari.

Ugali is just maize flour cooked with boiled water. It’s the staple food of the Mijikenda people and it’s part of their identities. A local proverb tells: “Give rice to a Mijikenda and he will tell you that he has not eaten”.

Kachumbari is just an onion and tomato salad, simple and quick to prepare. Cut the onion very thinly and wash with salted water to get rid of the strong taste. Cut the tomato thinly, mix together and add lemon juice. The only thing I’m struggling with is cutting vegetable up to perfection without a chopping board. Salama is very proud of her technique and of her ability not to cut herself with the sharp knife. She holds the tomato in her left hand and the knife with the right, being moved horizontally the knife touches her palm to make a perfect slice.

Nothing has to be said about the fish. Just go to the beach, find a fisherman and buy a kilo for 200Ksh (2euro). Boil or fry and will be delicious.

Enjoy your meal, more food stories to come.

Jambo!

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