The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love...Kenya

The contents of this website are my own PERSONAL opinion. They do not reflect the opinions, policies, actions, feelings, or eating habits of the Peace Corps, the U.S. Government, any government, shadow governments, or anyone else, for that matter, but ME.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Few Questions Asked and Answered

So, a few questions have come my way and so I am going to throw out
some answers. One question was how you get around (short and long
distances). So, have I ever explained matatus (technically the plural
of this Kiswahili word would be watatu, but I'm just showing off my
very limited language, and everyone calls them matatus). They are the
public transport system of Kenya. Most matatus are about the size of
an American mini-van, except they have higher capacity seating bolted
in. By Kenya law, these mini-vans matatus are restricted to 14 paying
passengers, 1 tout, 1 driver and 80 kilometers per hour. My last
matatu ride had 19 paying passengers, 2 touts, 3 chickens, 2 babies
and 1 driver. Oh, and they'd jimmied the governors cup and were
easily going 100kph while passing on blind curves. This was an
unexceptional matatu ride. There are police check-in points along the
road, we passed 3. That's all I'll say about that (publicly) until I
COS (Close of Service). What's hard to comprehend is that everyone
who was here before the new law putting limits on matatus was passed
says that they used to be soooo much worse. I try to imagine it, but
I can't. What is great about these flying TB machines (as I have come
to affectionately call them) is that it's the cheapest and grandest
entertainment you'll ever get. It costs me 150 shillings ($2 US) to
make the 1.5 to 2 hour trip from my house to Kisumu, and it is ALWAYS
an adventure. That is the journey I made today to bring you this
wonderful update.

Another question was how do I re-charge my phone and other electrical
stuff? Yes, while I don't have electricity in my house, plenty of
other places do. There are little shops in town you can pay a small
fee to and they will charge it up. My organization's office has
electricity, and I can plug in there. That is all provided the one
line from Kisii hasn't gone down, which it does frequently (daily).
My phone doesn't need charging more than once a week, so I am usually
ok. This is also why my phone isn't always on (but it is usually on
between 5-9pm Kenya time). It is also a three mile walk (up hill both
ways). Some other volunteers have electricity in their houses, so
when I am crashing in their lap of luxury, I avail myself. All this
to say that not having electricity in my own house hasn't proven to be
a big obstacle…yet.

The other question from many of you is about food. This is a
complicated answer. There's what Kenyans eat, what I eat when Kenyans
cook and what I eat at home when I "cook."

So, the staple food in Kenya is maize (less flavorful corn). Kenyans
eat massive (no like, brick size portions) amounts of a maize flour
dish called ugali, with every meal. Ugali is difficult to explain to
the un-initiated. The maize flour is poured in boiling water and then
cooked (with noting else) until it forms a firm mound. The only thing
close would be to imagine grits without sugar, salt or milk and cooked
until its firm enough to take a shape. Served with this massive
amount of ugali is sukumawiki, or kale, as we would call it. These
are like greens, minus the pork and with a lot more salt and Crisco.
If it is a special occasion there might be chicken (or goat or beef)
in a "soup" what we'd call stew. The Kenyans also make chapatti (not
like Indian chapatti) that resembles really thick tortillas. Other
staples are "English" potatoes and sweet potatoes (not orange, but
still yummy). Rounding out any given meal are various types of beans.
Now, at any given Kenyan's dinner table I'll be served any or all of
the above, and I will eat it too, but in much smaller portions (I can
only eat a small fist size serving of ugali). My homestay brother was
convinced he'd starve in America after watching me eat for 10 weeks.
Food security is a big issue here, so you eat food and lots of it when
it is available. They also (especially women) work their butts off
and need to calories. I do not.

When I am tucked away in my house, I do not make ugali or sukuma. I
make eggs. And did you know you don't need a toaster to make toast or
a microwave to make popcorn? Who knew? I have also started eating
something I'd never touched in college, Romen Noodles. Those things
aren't half bad, and cook mighty fast too! I am eating cucumbers,
apples and come January it's mango season. I'd like to eat more
pineapple since they are only $.50 for a whole one, but I can't eat a
whole one in a sitting. They are a pain to cut and I can't preserve
it once sliced.

That's all from Kenya for right now. I'm sure this has been more than
enough! So, until next time…WRITE ME!


  • At 12:25 PM, Blogger renee said…

    I hope to GOD that I NEVER have to eat ugali again. . . really!


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