Only two days here, and I already feel like it’s been a weeks worth of experiences! On my first full day, I was picked up by the Kenyan short term co-ordinator, Murray, and was taken to the office for the first part of my orientation. The drive there – what an experience! I now know that here in Nairobi, the lines on the road are only suggestions - if someone or something is in your way, you drive around them, regardless of whether it’s into oncoming traffic or not. Eek! :) And people! There are people all over the road – no crosswalks or pedestrian lights for sure! I’ve been told that pedestrians do not have the right of way here, so basically you run out into traffic with your hand out and hope that they stop for you. Ha! (ok, it’s not THAT extreme…. Well, ok, yes it is).
Upon arrival at the office, I met Janet, the short term assistant, and the rest of the AIM Eastern Division staff. Part way through the morning we all met for tea, birthday cake, prayer, and worship in a little covered courtyard off the office. What a great tradition, tea time! I’m very much enjoying learning how things work here, meeting people both in the office and at Mayfield guest house, and picking up little bits of language and culture as I go along.
Adventures on Public Transport
After lunch on my first day in Nairobi was when the real adventures began – Janet arrived back at Mayfield to take me on a matatu tour. Matatus are a form of public transportation here in Kenya – kind of a cross between a bus and a taxi – but not at ALL like a bus or a taxi!!! Janet showed me how they work, a few different routes to take to get to different places. She was also there to tell me that the conductor who was continually asking me to be his girlfriend in his tribal language and who was jamming 18 or 19 people into a 14 passenger van was indeed NOT normal of matatus in general. I have no idea what the conductor was saying, but Janet understood him, and all she would say was, “He’s being very naughty!” Telling him “Hapana” (no) caused him to back off a little, but not much!
We took the matatu to a used clothing market in Nairobi (more on that later!) and on the way back, took a bus so I could see who the bus system works, too. Again, we were in for adventure! The busses and matatus do have set routes, but, like the lines on the road, I’m learning that they, too, are flexible. There was traffic, so the bus just turned down a side road to avoid it and changed his route. We decided to go with it, but this new route led us to an intersection where a matatu and a car had had a little fender bender and it blocked the intersection. There were dozens of people all crowded around the crash, and the bus driver just laid on his horn over and over and over… till I suppose he got bored of that and decided – the BUS – to hop the curb, drive over the sidewalk, and carry on its way. Ok, then! “At least now when you take public transport, it will all seem smooth!” Janet told me! Even she, a Kenyan, was surprised at our adventure! :)
To Market, to Market
Our destination was Toi (Toy?) Market, a used clothing market in Nairobi. Make no mistake. This is no shopping mall. Little “shops” were set up with branches and wire and each merchant had their wares displayed all over the walls and on little tables along the crowded walkway. I wish I could have taken some pictures to give you an idea, but for one, you don’t really carry anything you’re not willing to lose around town, and it’s not really acceptable to take photos of markets and things – they are people’s businesses, and it could be seen as offensive. Shucks!
Anyway, I needed to buy a few long skirts, and I was up for a little bargaining. Through the crowded and dusty shops, we went to booth after booth looking for and trying on skirts (by standing on the dirt floor and pulling them up over my pants!). I can’t say my bargaining was stellar, but I did get the merchants down from about 800 shillings ($12) to 550 ($8.25) for each skirt. I don’t think they were going to go lower, so I’m happy with that! I definitely had fun with the market, though. “How much for this?” I’d ask. When told the price, I’d let out a “Whooo! Too much!” which was inevitably followed by, “The price is not feexed, seestah. You tell me how much you want to pay.” Ah, why can’t we bargain back in Canada? Walk into The Bay… “Whooooo! Too much! I’ll give you a third of that!” Anyone want to try for me? Tell me how it goes! Hehehe!
On Saturday I met up with a team from Australia to go to the Masai market – basically a tourist market with all kinds of cultural souvenir-type things. It was HUGE, and a little overwhelming, but fun, too, to see all the stuff and experience the market! “Karibu, seestah. Welcome! Come and see my things. I made them myself. [Funny, cause your stuff is exactly like about 6 other merchants here. Hmm…] I give you a special price…” Some shop owners were friendly, some were pushy (“You’re just browsing? Ok, well, will you ocme back? Ok, when? You promise to buy from me?” AK!), and one chased one of the team members halfway across the market to try to convince him to buy his painting. I think my favourite, though, was the woman with a baby strapped to her back who came up to us outside the market while we were waiting for the rest of the team to come out. “Give me one hundred dollars!” Um, no? She systematically went to each one of us: “Give me one hundred dollars. Give me one hundred dollars. Give me one hundred dollars…” Oh, ok, let me open my wallet for you!
I actually had kind of a creepy experience in the market that day, though. We are always being so vigilant about our money, keeping it separated in different places, only taking out small bills, keeping our bags in the front and our hands on our bags… Well in the market I took out a notebook to write down the name of a young man I met who is from Korr (one of the Aussie team members recognized him from their time there), and as I was putting it back in my bag, one of the shopkeepers caught my attention. “Excuse me, your money…” and pointed to the ground. Sure enough, there was a little pile of three or four bills. I was horrified at how careless I had been (it was only about $4 worth, but still!), so crouched down, realized that I needed to keep my purse in front of me (could this be a ploy to grab my bag while I was distracted picking up the bills?), grabbed the bills, and shoved them into my purse. As I thanked the merchant, it occurred to me that I was pretty sure I had put all my bills in zippered pockets in my purse, and my notebook was in the main, unzippered part, so how on earth did those bills fall out??? As I was walking away, I wondered if maybe it was some kind of setup and someone was going to come after me for robbery or something. Gak! I just got out of there quickly, and after nothing happened, decided that it was just a dude being nice to some silly mzungu (white person) who was throwing money on the ground. Suspicion should have its limits, I suppose!
After the morning at the Masai Market, I headed back to Mayfield for lunch and my first Kiswahili lesson with Bwana Ezekiel. It was two hours long, and all we covered were greetings, but as we sat in a corner of the garden, I began learning and practicing some greetings and learning more about how important these are in African culture. I’ll pass on a few of them a little later (cause really, I don’t expect that many of you are still reading this anyway by now! Ha!), but it was such a lovely afternoon – breezy and cool, picking up some language in a one-on-one lesson in the shade of a large tree. All we needed was a cool glass of lemonade to complete the highly civilized picture!
Where I’m headed from here…
It looks like I will be here in Nairobi for a little longer than I thought, as the Swanepoels (the missionaries I’ll be staying with in Korr) have to make a trip for supplies and wanted to push my arrival date back. I’ll be here in Mayfield till Tuesday or Wednesday, then will possibly be heading to a homestay right near one of the slums here in Nairobi (not Kibera, I forget what it’s called just now) for about a week, visiting and helping out in a kind of informal school there. I think where it stands now is that I’ll be headed up to Korr on the 20th of January. I’m happy to experience some more of Nairobi and to see some of the ministries here, but I’m also getting really eager to get up to Korr and begin learning the Rendille language and culture and getting settled in there. God’s got it all in control, and I’m happy to roll with whatever comes my way!
Thank you to those of you who are commenting and emailing! I really do love hearing from you, and will do my best to reply to emails as soon as I can!
Kwaheri marafiki yangu! / Goodbye, my friends!