Friday, October 23, 2009

The Neighborhood

“Obama! Obama!” The chorus of small children yell this as they run to me wrapping themselves around my legs and begging to be picked up. I grab a few of the lightest ones and toss them into the air and spin them around. This is a frequent occurrence considering every time I walk to or from my house I’m bombarded by the neighborhood kids. Really, I just passed you 10 minutes ago you don’t need to attack me again!
There is never a dull moment thanks to the kids in the neighborhood. Living in the hospital staff compound I’m surrounded by about 50 children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, of my coworkers. These kids are fascinated by the muzungs living next to them. The first few weeks of living here I felt like an animal at the zoo. Children would stand at our windows and gawk all day long. They’d pound on the door chanting, “Muzungu, give me sweets!” No! Parents warned us never to give the kids food or else they would always come back asking for more.
My house has become a play room. Our toys consist of a Where’s Waldo book, and a few bouncy balls. But most of all the kids are interested in just watching me do everyday things. They watch me brush my teeth, comb my hair, do my dishes, sweep the floor. Sometimes they assist in helping hand wash my clothes. Freddy, it really isn’t necessary for you to be washing my underwear! But everything is more interesting when a white person does it.
You never know what “toys” the kids are going to bring a long with them. Zedi once brought in his little truck with a dead bird in the back of it. Allen comes in holding a rusty saw blade. Samuel is chewing on some pills- go figure his dad is a doctor. Olga is trying to scare me with a goat skull (probably the remnants of a recent slaughter). Baby usually comes over without shorts or underwear and likes to sit on our furniture. You can’t turn your back on them or else they’re scouring our food bin looking for a snack , or they’re running away with our belongings. Hey, come back here with my hairbrush! I’ll be walking home from work and I see a 1 ½ year old dragging my running shoes across the compound. One afternoon I watched a group of preschoolers chase cows away by throwing rocks at their behinds. Cheap entertainment! Who needs a swing set and sidewalk chalk when you have cows and rocks!?
Not all of the children enjoy us. Some of the tiny ones are afraid of the big white monsters living near them. One little guy, Bradley, screams and bolts home if I am within 20 yards of him. The older kids know how afraid he is and they’ve made a game out of it. They carry him to our front step (unbeknown to him that it is my house) knock, and leave him stranded. So when we answer the door he’s alone, face-to-face with the white girls. The horror-stricken boy bolts home at lightening speed. The first few months were tough for Bradley but he’s finally get use to me.
It’s great having the kids around. I’ve improved my Swahili learning phrases like “Don’t touch that.” “Take off your shoes.” “Go home, return tomorrow!” They are overall well behaved, cute kids. I’d compare it to having 50 nieces and nephews, they are fun to play with but when you get tired of them you can send them back home to mom and dad!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sundays in Sori

Sundays have become my favorite day of the week because its market day. The open air market is bustling with people, produce, and poultry. Goats meander through the market, and the smell of dried omena (like sardines) is potent. Mounds of tomatoes line the isle way. Villagers come from their homes, miles away, carrying their tomatoes, onions, maize, beans, and fish to sell at the weekly market.
Armed with my plastic shopping bags and 350 Kenyan Shillings (about $4) I trek to the market in Sori 2.5 miles down the road. This past weeks shopping list included onions, cabbage, sugar, and papaya. Bargaining is essential. No price tags, and no ads telling you what the weekly specials are. Being white usually causes the price to double. When I was a market rookie I inquired about fair prices on items from friends before I went to the market. I want to pay the “mafrika price” (black man), and not the “muzungu price” (white man). When people see me their eyes turn into dollar signs. Being a veteran market goer I now know what the fair prices are and I fight for them. If their was a Price is Right Karungu, I would definitely win. I hate being over charged, even if it is just a few shillings. Usually, ‘mano maan yen’ (that’s too much!), putting down the item, and slowly starting to walk away is a good tactic. Most of the time the seller will agree to my price.
My favorite part of the market is the second hand clothing piles imported form the US and Europe. I love rummaging though the heaps of Goodwill leftovers. Some of my best purchases have been: a Xavier U. t-shirt, American Eagle tank top, and Aeropastle pants that fit perfectly. They have spruced up my wardrobe of ten shirts that I have been wearing the past eight months. A shirt is about 50 cents and pants are $1.50. Not bad considering that they sometimes still have the $6.99 Goodwill price tag on them.
The first few trips to the market I was a spectacle. I think the entire market stopped what they were doing to look at me. Seeing white people in the market was unchartered territory. Usually visitors come just to take pictures then leave, but I was actually there to make some purchases. At one point, I looked up from rummaging through a pile to fine 4 women lined up in front of me just staring at me in amazement. Yes, I am a white girl and I’m looking to buy some second hand clothes. Small children also liked to follow me around and to observe the purchases I am making.

What’s the cost of living? (74 cents=100 shillings)
Bread 35 shillings
4 Tomatoes 20 shillings
Cabbage 30 shillings
Sugar (1kg) 110 shillings
Pineapple 40 shillings

A Sunday afternoon of haggling at the market…..priceless!
For everything else there is Mastercard

Sunday, October 4, 2009


At 5am I hear Christy get out of bed. (We have bunk beds) She’s convinced she hears a cat meowing inside our house. So she turns on the flashlight and scopes the place out but doesn’t find anything. I heard the meowing but think its coming form outside. “Christy, you are nuts! You probably just dreamt about it (our malaria prophylaxis,Mefloquine, has side effects of vivid dreams which we‘ve experienced).We haven’t let any cats in the house. Its 5am- go back to bed!” So she does. The next morning Christy heads to work as I’m still getting ready. I hear a meow, and its definitely coming from inside the house- under the bed to be more exact! I look underneath and there is a little kitten. Shoot, Christy was right! No wonder she thought it was coming from inside, the cat was about 10 inches away from her head! I move away our suitcases and discovered three more! Are you serious, we have four kittens living underneath our bed!? My first reaction was to leave them alone and head to work, I can deal with it over my lunch break. I‘m running late. “Um sorry, I’m late for work I have an infestation of kittens in my house.” But then I didn’t want these little guys getting into our food, pooping, and tearing up our stuff. Plus, what kind of predators are they going to attract? If they can get in the house, so can a snake that wants to eat them! I get out the broom and a dust pan and plop all four of them outside. Hopefully the mother will come back looking for them. When I came back from work for lunch two of the kittens were still laying in front of the house. I guess the mother took the other two home. Well, she did take them “home,” she jumped through the window with them and plopped them back underneath our bed! (our windows have bars over them but no screens) So this time I take the cats and plopped them REALLY far away from the house in some tall grass. Either the mother will find them or a hungry animal will. Sorry all you cat lovers, its the circle of life. So now I am paranoid about what’s going to come through our windows. Cats? Birds? Bats? Snakes? Iguanas? I take extra care tucking mymosquito net in at night. It’s the only thing that separates me from the bush.
A little update since I wrote this blog yesterday. The cats are back! Last night at 3am, the cat brought all the kittens back to our house.We heard her outside the window with them and chased her away before she could carry them inside! I’m not sure why she is attracted to our house, we rarely cook fish or meat in our house compared to our neighbors who prepare fish at least once a day. If we close the windows at night we’ll roast. If we leave them open I’ll live in a cathouse. I don’t want to be a “cat lady!”