Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Under the Mosquito Net

Habari gani from Kitui, Kenya! Tonight is the first night of homestay, which means that for the first time I'm not staying in luxurious Peace Corps subsidized accommodations. I'm staying with a lovely Kenyan family who has graciously offered to let a crazy and stupid American crash in their home for ten weeks. It has been a little under a week and I used my first African squat toilet ten minutes ago. Host families are from the Kenyan middle class, so even my homestay accommodations are quite cushy (although my family only owns one knife). This family's choo (pit latrine) actually has a thin piece of rope hanging from the window (the choo has a window!) so you can hold on while you "help yourself," - Kenyinglish for using the loo. also Kenyan are the terms "short call" - to pee - and "long call" - to poop.

My homestay baba is a mason so his home is particularly nice, a cement structure gleaming among his neighbors' mud huts. So far I'm the local celebrity in my neck of the village, and everywhere I go there are always 20 kids following me and touching my hair. The first Swahili word I learned, of course, was mzungu - white person. They call all foreigners mzungu, including Black Americans. So right now I can't tell if everyone actually thinks I'm white or if they don't have enough Asians in Kenya to come up with a racial slur for us yet. Either way, my Swahili won't be good enough to explain Pacific rim immigration to America for awhile, so they will have to think whatever they think for now.

So far we have had some basic culture, language and health/safety training, but the intensive technical training for our jobs begins on Thursday. My baba and one of my brothers borht speak more English than I speak Swahili, but I think we'll be mostly smiling and nodding at each other for at least another week.

Anyway, the Peace Corps has eased us into Kenyan life so gradually that I've felt very little culture shock so far. The biggest changes I've had to get used to are being around religious people, being around people who are more reserved than me (more reserved than ME!) and having to pretend that underwear doesn't exist. In orther words, you can't hang underwear outside to dry, they must hang in your room...and if you have someone else do your laundry, you never give them your underwear to wash because they'll return them to you hidden - and unwashed - among the rest of your clean clothes. I do have a bit of Peace Corps paranoia after those health and safety sessions though...every itch feels like scabies, every matau (public transport minibuses) is a rusty death trap full of passengers carrying TB, every mostquito is carrying malaria, every kid who shakes my hand just wiped his ass with it, every dog has rabies, and everyone in Nairobi is waiting to rob you.


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