Heroes’ day

The heroes’ day

Yesterday it was bank holiday. On TV they broadcasted songs sang in tea fields next to the railway and they praised the freedom fighters and ministers who had been working with Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president after the independence. They also mentioned the Kenyan athletes.

They showed the army and paid tribute to the soldiers fighting against Somalia. It is the first time  the country is at war. The Somalis kept hacking ships and kidnapping people, so Kenya sent its army to the borders. The seas are patrolled by the Kenyan Navy, but still they were the most dangerous seas in the world. For this reason, Somalia started making terrorist attacks on Kenya: here the Kenyans live with the threat of Al Shabab – the name of the Somali Militia.

I remember when I was young, France’s minister of Health – who is also my neighbour in Paris, had set a charity operation called “ Du riz pour la Somalie”  ( Some rice for Somalia). All the school children were supposed to buy a Kg of rice that would be sent to Somalia were they were suffering terrible famines. When I was a child it was Ethiopia who was in this situation.

One of my students almost laughed at me when I told him I felt sorry about his having to go to war. He told me that nobody had  died at war, in the eleven months he had spent there  because they had good equipement. He said that two of them had died carried away by the water as they went for some drinks. My next question is how can they determine who has won the war.

One of the ships used to capture Kismayu was made in Spain.

Documentary ” Beads of Bondage” about the Samburu people

The Samburus are a tribe living in the remote northern areas of Kenya. Yesterday there was a short documentary on them and one of their customs considered retrograde for the Kenyans. The documentary was called “Beads of bondage”. Young girls, aging from nine to fourteen are selected by a Moran – Morans are warriors under 30 years of age- who is a relative of them. He then sells a cow or a beef to buy beads for them, and mentions his interest about the girl to her brothers. It is an honour for the family to have a beaded girl and some of the girls feel their beauty is enhanced with the beads. Then they build a hut for them and the Moran can come to visit her whenever he wishes to. This custom is supposed to help regulate the Morans’ concupiscence and prevent them from seducing the elders’ wives.

When a girl gets pregnant, the elder ladies – or traditional doctors go to the forest, to get rid of the child; they say they are going to fetch water of wood. If the Moran finds out, she is abandoned as it is considered to be her fault if she becomes pregnant with this unprotected sex.

These traditional methods of abortion cause dreadful pain to the girls; some have undergone three abortions and some don’t even survive this practice: heels and all kinds of pressure are applied. She girl is held still by other women.

However if the child is born he is either slain within an hour or abandoned in the forest. The documentary showed one middle- aged lady who went to pick the new-born  to then raised them as her children. “One might become a president or even a MP’’ she said. “ When they are older they might protect me”. By doing this she becomes an outcast, which means getting little support if any from the community. However it seems there was another woman supporting her; a lady that had been beaded as a child and who was against this practice: she was forced to abort after a five month pregnancy and mentioned the excruciating pain.

Some of the girls are happy with this practice, and others run away to the nearest school –located 20 km away- where they get assistance. Some of the elder ladies are against this practice, some say it’s an honour. Some of the ladies say that it is a sin to have sex without the girls being circumcised. However this practice gets much reprobation from Western cultures. As for the Morans themselves, they say they can’t survive without a woman and can’t be expected to survive without a woman.

Beads of Bondage on NTV, click on this link

New website about French culture for my Kenyan students

When I arrived I noticed that my intermediate students had good grammar skills but their knowledge of French culture was rather poor. So the second weekend was spent on launching a website to guide them.

Unlike in India where everyone had a laptopand a connection, things were not easy here with the internet. No connection at the barracks even… I have to carry my own modem to connect in the classroom. Internet is also rather expensive and slow here. No optical fibre, just individul modems in my area. Even the officers have no connection in their offices at the barracks.

This is definately something new for me and definately a challenge too. I work with the internet within the classroom…
Comparing with India … well I understand why India is such an IT country!


The weather in Nairobi

Nairobi after the monsoon rains

As I was packing I packed the same clothes as for Singapore: Nairobi is at the same latitude, but South of the equator, 80 km to be precise. Being so experienced, I knew excatly what to pack. ” Haha, this weather wouldn’t fool me”! I was expecting terrible heats and humidity and also a rainy season. When looking for a flat knowing about the high level of criminality I had wanted a flat with a pool. Thus I thought, after class I could have a lovely cool swim, and exercise within my building. I wanted a flat with A/C. The weather would be very much like that of Pune – an inland city of India at around 150 km from Mumbai : that’s to say terrible! In Pune I tried all the strategies I could think of in order to cool down: dressing with wet clothes etc…To me life there was an ordeal. I was really scared of the heat in Nairobi as my experiences on the equator had been by the sea. I had also brought my mosquito gear: mosquito net, repellants, and mosquito electrocutor I had brought back from India – my mosquito paradise.

When I arrived in my non A/C -non pool flat, I went straight to bed. To my great surprise the first morning I woke up with a runny nose! The second day it was the same, and I had to dress up warmly.

The students being naïve think that we the wasungus – the white people- can’t be cold. Then I told them that it had nothing to do with that, but more to do with our blood circulation.

After never being hot at home I thought that the buildings were built very in a  clever way, that this grey rock that made them seem unfinished was really efficient,  and that the walls were so thick that we couldn’t be hot. But a week later I noticed that it was actually cold outside in the open air too!

Finally when enquiring about the weather, I was told that Nairobi is located at 1700 meters above the sea level! The British had established the capital city here, because of the weather : the cooler temperatures meant hardly no mosquitos and no malaria!

What shall I do with all my summer clothes?

Of course I would have not been in such great trouble had I read the first page of Out of Africa first, where Blixen perfectly describes in one sentence the weather in Nairobi :

“The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt you had got up high, near to the sun, the the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold”.

Out of Africa, p. 13

The Army

Before coming here, my friends and family had advised me to be very careful: that army people were very tough, and so on and so forth. I thought that only men worked at the army. The first day of class I told the students to introduce themselves. There were four ladies in the class. Some were wearing green uniforms and some blue. The blue ones were for the air forces, as for the others they were for the land forces. The Marine forces didn’t take part in the French class as they were located on the coast, in Mombasa (the second city of Kenya located on the coast; the majority of its inhabitants are muslims due to its trading history with the Arabs).

When asked their profession , I thought they were going to reply that they were military people. But to my surprise some were spies, some secretaries, some teachers, one was a detective… Later my student told me that the Army was a government of itself and most of the professions could be represented… and I was thinking they were going to be fighting at wars…

Entering the army provides them with a good salary. Just a little comparison: the housekeepers or watchmen of my building earn around 9000 Ksh (that’s 90 euros, so the watchmen most probably live in the slums such as Kibera) whereas the next to last cadet earns 44 000 Ksh. The first live in the slums whereas the later can afford to put his children in a private school ; I was told that the government schools go quite often on strike here.

In the department where I work, for instance, all of them are teachers. There is a Centre for higher education that provides, maths, English, geography lessons, communication skills etc…They all have a title: most of them are Majors and they are in their thirties. So if I had joined the army, by now I would be Major Eva!

The Matatus

A matatu guy calling for us

“Matatus” are small vans with four rows of three seats at the back. There are also two seats at the front next to the driver. We take them to move around as there is no underground transport. Most of them are rather old, their state is more or less reliable. In fact some of them should not be on the road at all.
They often change the drivers. There is another guy assisting the driver: he collects the money and tells the driver when to stop by banging on the body of the van twice.

Today it was very rainy: there were 5 people sitting on the first row, in fact two of them where doing their best to fit in; half standing: the main thing is to fit in, as it is not for a very long distance comfort doesn’t really matter.
The rates vary according to the distance, whether it’s during the rush hour or not, whether it is rainy or not. If either of the latters it will increase by 10 Kenyan Shillings. its around 50  shillings per trip.

Here in Kenya most drivers don’t respect the driving rules : the matatus often try to gain a few meters by driving on the pavement itself. Today one of them had fallen along the road in a ditch…

Buildings in Nairobi

Most of the buildings are grey, which gives us Europeans the impression that they are not yet finished. My friend C*** told me that here they use the rock itself apprently its a local rock ( but of course I forgot its name…). So this compound is for the middle class Kenyans. I think I am the only caucasion person here…