Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Wale wali wa Liwala wala wali wa Liwala wao

(A Kenyan tongue twister)
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I hate kids. I didn't really like kids when I came to Kenya, and now I hate them. In all fairness, I think I'm just a little bitter and frustrated and weary of being a mzungu in a place where mzungus can hold an entire village at rapt attention for half an hour by simply sitting in a chair. And kids bear the brunt of that frustration, because they're small, dusty, snot-dribbled, boil-pocked, and make these high-pitched, nasal oinking noises that go like, "HOWAH YOO?" After ten weeks it's every Peace Corps trainee's least favorite greeting from the locals. Although arguably, the matatu touts hissing
TSSTTTSSSTTTSSSTTTZZZ to get your attention may rank higher by virtue of really having no cultural equivalent in America in rudeness factor.

If regular-sized locals are irritating in their ability to stare without shame, form a veritable gauntlet of greetings along every road I walk in town so that I've responded "Jambo" literally a hundred times by the time I get home, and talk about you in the local dialect right in front of you, somehow the kids are a hundred times worse. All they want is your attention, and if it's negative attention, even better. They don't care what their words mean, because you're just their toy to manipulate in any way they can. So to respond to them only feeds their taunting, and to ignore them makes you bitter.

Kids here are fast learners, which is how every one of the 300 kids at my host brother's primay school knows my name, and I am met with a swarm of green and pink school uniforms spilling out of the classrooms towards me, oinking, "Jahs-tee-nah! Jahs-tee-nah! Jahs-tee-nah! Jahs-tee-nah! Jahs-tee-nah!" everytime I walk past the school grounds. This has always been fine with me since having my name oinked at me is preferable to having "mzungu" oinked at me. Last week I made the mistake of yelling at a kid who oinked,
"Japanese!" at me as I was coming out of the post office. I turned around and said, "Don't be rude." So naturally, being a 6-year-old brat, he said it again. "I said don't be rude," I said, walking threateningly towards him. "I'm not Japanese and you're being rude." He and his friends made some oinking sounds that resembled laughter and ran away.

A few days later a different kid, wearing a uniform from the same school as the first kid, oinked, "Japanese!" when he saw me at the post office. I pedalled slowly towards him on my bike and said, "Do you want to get your ass kicked?" He and his sister ran away, but it was too late. Five minutes later a pickup truck piled with kids - all wearing the same school uniform as the first two kids - drove by. One of them oinked, "Japanese!"

I fucking hate kids, especially the ones wearing those red school uniforms with the red-and-white checked shirts. They're just the right size and shape so that I can pedal up behind them, stick my foot out and smack them in their tiny dusty little butts. But frankly, I know I'm never going to do it because in Kenyan culture kids are considered a blessing, so some bitter mzungu going around kicking kids on her bike is only going to rouse a lynch mob of angry parents. Instead, in a few days there will be 300 kids from the primary school with the red uniforms screaming "Japanese!" at any mzungu who looks like they're from East Asia.

I am leaving Kitui next week and moving to my permanent site in Western Kenya, but I have to offer my sincerest apologies to all Asian American Peace Corps trainees who arrive in Kitui going forward, because they are the ones who will suffer the consequences of my stupidity with kids. I wonder how many shillings it is to get one's tubes tied?

3 Comments:

Blogger amy said...

baby hater. however, i don't blame you. perhaps this is why my parents are so frustrated with me and my unwillingness to produce grandkids.

come meet me in beijing

9:41 AM  
Blogger jenly said...

100% CERTIFIABLY TRUE

11:51 AM  
Blogger renee said...

Oh justina. . . you do know that it is that oinking from the children that I miss the most.

4:26 AM  

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