Pride and Prejudice

I was seated in a café of an elegant shopping mall in Nairobi’s posh area. I was reading next to a couple sitting at the table next to me. The man was black and wore elegant yet casual clothes. The white woman wore clothes that would go unnoticed. They had ordered one drink which they shared with the help of a single straw, and, as they liked it, the man ordered a second one. They were happily recalling the safari they had just come back from, laughing and speaking of how lucky they were and how wonderful it had been. As it was getting dark and cold, the man then asked for the bill. It was brought to them.

Suddenly the woman started speaking in an angry tone and I was dragged out of my reading.

Every time it’s the same thing! When did it not happen these last days! I will tell the waitress! She has to know. I’m fed up with this!

Honey you can’t go on educating the whole world, said the man

I told you already that I have no ambitions as far as the world is concerned, but I don’t want to contribute to world’s racism. I understand that for you it is not insulting.

You are wrong it is as insulting for me! Do you think I was not annoyed by the warden at Amboseli when he asked if you were also paying for me? It seems like I am a kept man.

She calmed down. It was obvious that she was extremely angry but probably angrier at her partner not understanding, so she calmed down. From the conversation she had I understood that the couple were both UN workers but the man held a higher or more lucrative position.

Finally the waitress came back.

Excuse me do women in Kenya pay for men’s bills? Continue reading

Article on Standard Digital: How men unprepared for marriage ward off clingy women

This article drawn from the Standard Digital explains  the other side of  “the marriage issue” in Kenya.

During my stay here I have heard a lot about marriages and their lack of success. I often think that the key to others’ behaviour lies in our own. This article confirmed this fact.

By SILAS NYANCHWANI

self imposed marriagesApparently, a huge percentage of marriages in Kenya are based on cohabitation. It all starts like a joke that unfortunately ends with tears — for the woman. It begins with a sleep over where the woman puts her best foot forward; cooks tasty meals, wash and clean and generally keeps the house in good condition. This will impress the man, no doubt.

It has been alleged that most men hardly know what they want in a wife, and therefore any woman with average so-called ‘wife material’ credentials can trick such men to marry them. All she needs to do is behave well during formative years and before the man knows it, she sticks on him like glue forcing him to marry her. Unfortunately, they never fake it for too long before things get thick. Things always fall apart with the woman, ironically, calling an morning show FM radio host to whine — about how she no longer ‘feel’ or love her husband.

Planting trees in Ngong hills

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills” .

This is the first sentence of Karen Blixen’s book, Out of Africa, who had published her book under a man’s name, Isak Dinesen, because at that time women writers were not taken seriously.

Today it was the soldier environmental program day, and so we all went to the Ngong DSCF4640hills – ngong means knackles in maasai- to plant 2500 trees.  I was looking forward to this, so I even came back a day ealier from my holidays. Everyone is so exceptionally nice at my working place, it is such a pleasure!

When we arrived the hills could not be seen at all. The mist was so thick that we could not see beyond 20 meters. It was poetic and mysterious. In fact it could have been any landscape in Europe, and more precisely an Irish landscape.

DSCF4643It started raining. But I had brought the kind of shower cap Kenyan ladies wear to protect their weaver ( the fake hair they use as African people’s hair doesn’t grow) that I had bought to a street vendor before stepping into a bus. I had no intention of buying it and didn’t even have the change for it, but he insited and finally ” support sister, support, we are hungry…”. This is how I ended up having this rather ridiculous cap. I can’t say it was the sexiest look ever but it was certainly the most appropriate. The girls  laughed a lot – at me, that is-, but they they had long nails and high heels and they were wearing the sexy clothes. To make things worst on my side, I had also taken pinky kitchen gloves not even knowing that we would use our bare hands to plant as there were no shovels. ” We Africans use our hands they said“.  When it started raining, I continued planting and the other Miss Nairobi girls all run to the umbrellas: Kenyan ladies take good care of their looks!

DSCF4648I planted 125 trees and I think it was the female record. Not that I was special, it’s just that I concentrated only on the planting rather than the carrying ; I worked alone at first and in a team later  it was real fun. I have never laughed as much as today ever since I arrived in Kenya, and I can say I haven’t laughed like this in a very long time.

There was a lady there who spent most of the time under the umbrella, but I saw her plant a tree or two. She was dressed in a rather simple way. I got tired eventually but the main thing is that in my excitement, I had totally forgotten to take breakfast, and run out of home at 6 AM, and I was the first to arrive to Karen from where we were all driven to Ngong hills. It had been a long ride too. At 1PM, I was feeling the hypoglycemia and I went and talked to the lady. By then the hills had uncovered their beauty as the sun was shining we could see ahead and below. ” This is so beautiful…!“. We talked a bit and then I mentioned I was not feeling too well because in my excitement I had forgotten to eat. Continue reading

Fortune favours the brave!

On the road, from Nairobi to Mombasa

I had heard about Mombasa for the first time in to the movie Out of Africa: Robert Redford gets his airplane there.

Also my colleagues said to me that in Mombasa, the drivers would see something they like in the market and stop the car in the middle of the road to bargain. And if you tell them something they will reply ” If you are in such a hurry you should have come yesterday!”

I had decided to go to Mombasa even before coming to Kenya but had I known how many vehicles I would have to take I would have probably been too worried with my poor sense of orientation to carry on with my project.

However it seems I was transported there by magic.

These are the many vehicles I had to take to cross the 550 separating Nairobi from the coast

-1 matatu from home to town

-1 night bus (9 hours)

-1 matatu from where the bus dropped me to the ferry ( oh yeah cause there’s a ferry)

-1 ferry to cross the sea

-1 matatu to the beach area

-another matatu to the actual beach

But my sweet colleague took me to the place where I could by the fare, then he brought me home, picked me up again and took me to the bus station… because it was night time and dangerous…. in the morning I woke up in Mombasa. The locals helped me and directed me, and magically I reached!

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

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!