Yesterday I attended the most interesting, enjoyable teacher’s meeting known to the history of man. Even though it happens to be only the second teacher’s meeting I have attended, I am sure that back home, teacher’s meetings just can’t be this awesome or stimulating.
In true Kenyan fashion, it began 3 hours after the start time stated by the invitation. It was expected, so not as frustrating as it sounds. The invitation stated that the event would begin at 9:30, so Dorine, Steven, Vincent and I decided to arrive around 11. We only waited for a little over an hour before music began, and then the speeches and refreshments began around 12:45. The MP (member of parliament, I believe) arrived a bit later, and gave his spiel about re-electing him for the next term. One thing Kenya has in common with the US is it’s love for politics. Here, unlike the US strategy of destroying the opponent, his tactic was bribery. First, he supplied free beer and soda, followed by unlimited free food and more free beer and soda, along with whiskey and wine. His last trick was 500 shillings to all guests at the “meeting” upon departure. It was quite an event.
Being the only white person amongst about 2000 Kenyans, I attracted quite a bit of attention, as usual. The experience was similar to that of the funeral, minus the dead body and wailing (although after the fights, I did catch a bit of moaning). The same photographers took many pictures of my face, and the faces of my companions. The MP came to personally greet me. I was offered a seat under the MP’s tent, in the VIP section. I drank beer with the Kenyan men. When the crowd went crazy, fighting over beer, stealing beer and running off with it, they actually offered some of their contraband to me. While people were waiting in line for the food, the caterer realized we were about 500 plates short. The crowd went crazy, as though they hadn’t eaten in days and this was their last meal (they were all teachers, well paid teachers). They ran to the caterer’s preparation tent, demanding plates. Dorine, Vincent, Steven and I were amongst those without plates. I offered to go try and find some, knowing that I would have more luck than they would. So, I joined the throng of people protesting around the caterer’s tent. People were shouting and pushing and shoving, some even began running off with stacks of the dirty plates. A man from the catering organization stood on a table and began screaming at everyone that they weren’t going to get any food until they were seated, then they would be served. People began to go back to their seats. Pretending I missed his announcement, I approached him and politely asked him where I could find a plate, since they seem to have run out at the serving station. He said “wait just one second, dear,” and ran off to get me a plate. Unfair, I know, but considering how much I get ripped off and taken advantage of at the market, the matatu stage, basically everywhere in Kenya… I think I will take advantage of these little windows of opportunity.
After the meal, like I said, the MP provided more beer and soda, along with other spirits. After the plate fiasco, the speaker announced that only those in their seats would be served – that they would be bringing the drinks around. Wishful thinking. As soon as the cases were dropped in the middle of the venue, men jumped up and raced to them, grabbing armfuls of bottles of beer. People started pushing and shoving, cases were being knocked over, some men even grabbed the entire case and ran off with it. Keep in mind that these are all teachers. It was pretty entertaining. I actually managed to take a video of some of the chaos, but I missed the first few good fights.
After the supply of beer was depleted (it only took a few minutes) people began seeking the money promised to them from the MP. I actually became slightly concerned for my safety at this point, because many people were drunk, and if they were fighting over beer, I felt confident that they would be fighting over the money… plus, I was also supposed to be getting 500 shillings, and I didn’t know how everyone there would react to the “rich mzungu” taking the money. I tried to convince Dorine to let me leave, but she insisted I was entitled to the money as well, and free money is free money… so I tried to wait along the outskirts of the crowd. About an hour later, we had our money (Dorine retrieved mine for me) and we were on our way. It was a fun day, very interesting. I also bought two pictures of my face, fueling the fire of the photographers. Overall, a successful day.
Afterwards, the four of us walked into Siaya town to run a few errands. I needed to purchase some food and I had a billion things I wanted to do at the cyber, and Steven and Vincent needed to make a few purchases because they actually will be going back to school next week. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive the marks they hoped for on their KCSE (major exam at the end of secondary school – the results determine if you go to college or university), and therefore they will be repeating the last term and taking the test again in October. It is extremely unfortunate for the school, because they have willingly took on a huge workload and are passionate about educating deaf children to improve rights for the deaf in Kenya. I’m going to miss them after they leave, but hopefully they will be back in November. Dorine and I are planning on going to visit them in month 6 at Kuja, the deaf secondary school they attend near Kisumu.
Anyways, we all walked into town, I bought a few things at the supermarket then sat in a chair outside of the supermarket watching people pass while I played with a kitten. It was a first for me. I’ve never played with a kitten at the supermarket before. And, I usually at least pretend to be busy or in a hurry because I’m a little uncomfortable in town, with everyone staring at me and watching everything I do. I usually just try to do my business and get outta there. But today, I decided just to hang out and take it in. Lately, I have been in the mindset that if they stare at me, I’m going to stare at them. So, I stare. A lot. And it’s amusing to me, because it makes them just as uncomfortable as it makes me. And lately, I’ve been realizing that a lot of the things I thought were rude or offensive, like the hissing at me as I walk by – are just cultural. When I sit and watch everyone, I notice that they hiss at everyone who walks by, and it’s kind of like how we say “hey” back home. Just a way to get attention, to see if you need assistance. People here are so willing to help, most of the time. And you know what, I am beginning to realize that they are just as wary of me as I am of them. So, I think I’m coming to accept a lot more of the differences – thanks a lot to the cultural research I did after my breakdown earlier this week.
Back to my day yesterday, I sat and watched people with the supermarket kitten for about 20 minutes before Dorine was finished. Then I went to the cyber while she ran a few other errands, to only accomplish a fraction of what I had hoped before the network went down. Knowing that Dorine would be waiting for me to finish, I only waited for network for about 15 minutes before throwing in the towel. I guess there’s always tomorrow. So, I met up with Dorine and we headed home.
This is more for me to reflect on than for your enjoyment, but it’s really exciting to recognize this stage for me in accepting the culture here and even adopting certain aspects of it. For instance, yesterday I chose to wear my Kenyan skirt rather than my American clothes, even though I think my American clothes look better. It was strange, I just wanted to wear it – and the MP even commented on my style – ha! He said “I see you fitting in nicely.” It’s small things.. like telling people “no,” or bargaining for something. It’s so much more stressful and difficult than it sounds, but once you actually do it and it is successful, you think, “Hey, I can do this! Maybe I do belong here…”
It’s still really hard for me to think about the time commitment. And I know the Peace Corps questioned my ability to fully commit two years to my service here, based on my record of frequent college transfers. It will be the longest time I have been in one place, with the same job. And what the heck am I going to do after this? I’m going to be 26 years old and already have had the experience of a lifetime…. What am I supposed to do next? How can I top this? Ah, it’s terrifying. But, this very second, I’m content and well living in Kenya, and there is absolutely nowhere else in the universe I would rather be – and yes, I even considered Cancun.