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…

What’s your postal address?

Kenyans are very polite; not just with foreigners, they are very polite among themselves. They are very calm and patient.

So I was going to open a bank account in a famous international bank but the locals told me they were thieves. So they showed me the bank they used and recommended I opened an account there. It was the cheapest they said: I would only pay this much for withdrawal at the bank, this much at the ATM, this much for the card, this much for this….and that…. Well, I told the counselor, in my country I pay nothing for all these services. And he replied “ How do the banks make a living!” Well because of interests and loans, don’t  worry about them, I said ! He seemed puzzled. He replied that here, they were safeguarding my money so that’s why I was supposed to pay. Of course! If they put it that way…. This is after all Nairob(er)y so safeguarding should be indeed rewarded!….

I had to fill in an application form where they asked for my postal address. So I wrote down my address but didn’t know the postal code.  The very polite counselor asked me many times if this was where I lived and I replied that it was, indeed. Ok but do you have a postal address?Yes this is my postal address, and this is my email address. I don’t know the postal code, but this is definitely the address. But I’d rather have you not send me the statements at all I’ll manage everything through the internet banking.Fine she insisted but what is your postal address? Again I indicated my address and repeated that I’d rather use the internet banking. Then she said “I’m afraid that without your postal address I can’t open your account”.  She seemed apologetic.  “I understand, I said smiling,  it’s obvious in my country it’s pretty much the same thing. So I’ll manage everything through the internet but this is where I live”. “ Ok Madam I understand but what about your postal address”. The Kenyans are polite people so I needed to be equally polite. “This is my email address, and this is my postal address, you can send the stuff here, but I will manage everything through internet banking”.

She explained that she had understood that I lived out of town that she knew the place, that she understood that I was going to use the internet banking but still what she wanted was my postal address. Finally I asked her : “ So what’s a postal address?” – A place where we’ll send your mail. I laughed of course so what was the issue??? “ Ok you can send it here, it will reach me! ” I said Then she said : Are you settled in Kenya?Yes! I sighed, thinking that would be it! I work for the Army! . “So mm,  what’s your address at home then?”. – “ My address in Paris?? Well if you send the mail to Paris while I’m in Kenya I’m sure I won’t be getting it!” I said laughing.

She seemed to be facing an unsolvable issue. She replied that indeed it was a problem, but as I didn’t have a postal address… I agree, I said, so I suggested she sent the mail to the address I had given her. She explained once more that this was my residence address. And I told her that it was indeed and that she should forget about Paris and send the mail there even though I would manage everything by internet banking because soon enough I would have my own connection.

She said she would send it to a post box and I would go and collect if from there. I said it was far too complicated and as I was a whitie we should keep it simple and send it to my home. Then I thought of sending it to the Barracks, and I gave her the address of the Army Barracks….She still didn’t seem happy with that. I thought of having it sent to the Embassy itself, but this would force me to go to town and I definitely didn’t like traffic jams, pollution and robbery….. Then she considered sending it to the Kenyan guy’s postal address which was 120 km away… After a ten minute conversation I finally understood, that in Kenya there was no such thing as a postman delivering the mail at your home. Every day people went to collect their mail to their postbox located somewhere around: this was the postal address; the residence address was what I called a Postal address or ” adresse postale” in French as opposed to the email address.

I said  to her laughing: Oh at home the postman drops it at my place. Haven’t you ever seen anything like that?

I have, she said, in the movies!

That’s how I started thinking of myself as of a movie character!

Arrival at Nairobi

Arriving at Nairobi: the contrast between its airport and the airports I was used to in South East Asia was huge! This is a tiny ariport and it’s seems we go through a voyage of time…up a few decades…or even centuries…

 the Duty free shops selling sweets and wine  The VIP lounge!  Tiny airport luggage belts  Getting one’s luggage

It was the first time I stepped in “Afrique Noire” as we say in French. As I already had my entry visa and the airport being so little it took less than 15 min  to reach the luggage belts. But getting the luggage, that was another story! It took a very long time : so much luggage in such a big plane! Sometimes they put the luggage aside to relieve congestion in the belt and in that case you can wait for yours for a long time!

Major G*** and his beautiful wife were waiting for me. They had been waiting for more than an hour and a half. As I had been told the traffic in Nairobi is a true nightmare. So they came really early in order to be sure they weren’t going to miss me.

It was a diplomatic car: a huge car.

They said sometimes we could see people lying by the road. We should never help them. Often there were people hiding behind the bushes that would leap out and assault you. If someone was indeed dead, we could be taken as the main suspect just because we were the one by the corpse… Sometimes the lions escaped the Parks and attacked the cattle…so last year they killed four of them. Sometimes we could see zebras crossing the road. A few months ago it was an elephant a car crashed into it, the family and the elephant died… Waoo! all these things made me enter a new dimension in a few minutes.

Eventually I arrived at my place: 7 km away from the busy traffic city. It was a very calm area, full of greenery and open spaces. Nothing to do with Nairobi itself. Later the people of the school would tell me it was the first time a teacher lived so close to the school. They usually lived in areas for expats – which implied hours spent in jams everyday and also paradoxically insecurity: that’s where the people would rather go for their hackings.

Where I lived it seemed a totally different world from Nairobi, a few minutes away from the Nairobi National Park, which allowed me to walk there. Others would have to arrange a day off  to reach… because of the jams…