I’m one of those stupid people (yes, I said it) who will trust you until you prove yourself to be an absolute waste of oxygen… I’m pretty liberal with the amount of asshole like behaviour I will let you get away with before I draw the time, but once you have proved yourself to be an absolute dick, well then, it’s over. I won’t trust you any more. I don’t care who else forgives you, how much time passes or how many times you apologise. Pay your debts to society, turn over a new leaf or whatever but don’t expect me to come running around forgiving you to help alleviate your guilt. Fuck that. Life is short and I am busy trying to change the world.
As such, when Onesmas asked me to give a lecture on democracy (based on my degree in public policy/international relations) I told him “No.” I explained that I had come to AFrica to learn and to help, not to play stupid local political games…. apparently this was not the answer he was looking for. he then asked me if I would explain basic political science, just a “pol sci 101” talk for the men and women at the same pentecostal church where we were to meet the Lunenele Orphans. Eventually, I agreed to talk about how and why Shannon, Wil and I were in Africa and the role that I though Western interventions should be playing in poverty eradication and development.
Giving a lecture, in a field you are only vaguely experienced in, in a language you don’t speak, because you are concerned that you may end up homeless in a rural area of a developing country…. sure what could go wrong with this???
A problem I had was that I had no idea where to start – politics is a broad topic, it’s like telling someone ‘go talk to those people about history’. The history of what country, tradition, language, area? For how long? How in-depth? What topic? What standard? Eventually because I could see no way of getting out of it, I agreed to talk about democracy. When we got there, I realised that I couldn’t just give a lecture on democracy, how? Why? And who the hell was I to walk into the church of strangers, as a foreigner and lecture them on democracy? So in the end what I told them was more of a pep-talk about how no one was going to solve Kenya’s problems for Kenya. It was down to Kenyans to do it, here’s a copy of the speech I wrote up later that day, its not exactly the words I used, but it’s pretty close.
Milembe Wosi (Greetings Every One)
You all call me a Muzungu (European/foreigner) and you’re right. I’m not from Kenya, I’m not even African. But still you are all looking at me asking me to solve all of your problems. I don’t even know what all of your problems are, I know some, but the rest I would have to guess. You M’Africa (Africans) know what Kenya needs.
William, Shannon and I don’t have money to hand out, but we do have hearts that want to understand the problems. We do care. We wish to communicate and co-operate with the people of Shikunga in order to help you to provide the future your children deserve.
Every child here has great potential, and it is they who with your help can change Kenya. There is no point in teaching them to rely upon foreign aid, as it is not sustainable We are here not to control your actions or to deal out instructions we are here to join with your community family and work with you under your instructions to help develop the potential of your children. Your children are the future.
I summed up by telling people that Wil and I would be outside to answer any questions they may have had after mass, and that Shannon was shy and wouldn’t be making a speech.
While I was talking Onesmas was translating my speech for the people in the church to understand. Now I at the time I couldn’t speak Swahili well, but I knew a few words. I learned them from my Acholi friend back in 2002 I know that child is mototo and love is upendo. I had used these words in my speech and they weren’t translated. When I confronted Onesmas later he said ‘Oh, I just told them what I thought you should have said.’ I thought ‘Right. That’s it.’
I know I must be depicting Kenya as an awful place that I didn’t like, but that’s not how it was, Kenya is obviously, rather mad… a land of mini buses licences to carry 12 people, but packed with 24 with additional people on the roof… oh and of course a chicken or two are usually on board as well. I remember the first time I rode on top of a bus on the way home the other day, it was such fun, quite liberating for someone who comes from a seat belt and safety obsessed nation. So there Sarah and I were riding on the top, much to the horror of the local women, (well men too) as women just do not ride on top of the matatu’s! (Actually forget that…sane people don’t ride on top of matatu’s!) Think about it though, you’ve got a small van with about 26 people in it, if the police pull it over the 15 excess passengers (it’s of course licensed to carry only 11) are arrested, it is 35 degrees and no one wears deodorant. As a white you are basically assured that you will never be arrested and so do you ride inside or ride on top? On top it is really dangerous but, the air is fresh, there is minimal live stock and you can always see where your stop is.
In Kenya most of my mornings started off at about 5am with chai (tea) and bread with Jam. Initially I had to travel to the office everyday, now the office was in the town of Kakamega (an hour away from my village shikunga), which explains all the travelling on top of vehicles with chooks.
Days tended to end with me being dusty, tired and having jack of people yelling out ‘HEY MUZUNGO! Come on my Bodo-bodo!” (‘Hey white person, ride on my bicycle taxi thing-o’) It is fun, but sometimes I just wanted to walk.
Days end with Ugali (a mixture of maize flour and water cooked over the fire until it looks almost like mashed potatoes but much stiffer and can be taken with the hands to eat stew), greens and kuku (chicken – on good days) and a shower in a bucket by candlelight, as we have no power or plumbing.
It was really amazing in Kenya, half the time, it was the way I expected it to be, sometimes it wasn’t though… Having come straight off the plane into dramas with the organisation, finding yourself entirely isolated with the only people you know being corrupt thieves wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. I remember sometimes I would be walking up the dirt/mud track to the road (gravel track) and suddenly there would be a herd of cows walking towards me with a barefoot 8 year old boy wearing only a pair of shorts would be guiding them, stopping thieves from taking them, and making sure the calves didn’t take the mother cows milk or there’d be none left to sell, or I would be stumbling around through the banana trees in the dark and I would suddenly realise ‘Hey, I’m in AFRICA. I have always wanted to be, and now I am. Everyone back home has always said I would go, and now I have! I. Am. In. Africa.’
One time, early on in my stay in Kenya I saw a prison work gang in the city, they were dressed in the traditional striped black and white prisoners clothes that we seem to see only in movies and cartoons. The were working on a government maize field, and they were surrounded by machine gun bearing police officers. While this did not make me feel at all safe, it was a definite ‘I’m actually in Africa’ moment!