Things That Eat Poo In the Choo, and Things That Don�t
November 28, 2005. Monday, 10:29pm.
Kenyans are afraid of the weirdest things: slugs and chameleons, two of the
slowest creatures on earth, and both non-biting. I found a chameleon on the
road the other day and picked it up. It rode on my finger for 3km into town.
Along the way two old women saw it, tripped, and dropped the loads they were
carrying on their heads. Kids refused to come near me and forgot to scream
�Chinese!� as I walked by. Old men wouldn�t let me enter their shops unless
I left the chameleon outside. A 25-year-old man squealed like a soprano and
ducked behind a vendor stall full of vegetables. Sambu, the public health
officer, passed in a matatu pointing and laughing at the chameleon on my
finger � until I extended my hand to give him a better look. He and the man
sitting next to him started waving their hands frantically, shaking their
heads and backing up in their seats to get away from this apparently very
I really can�t figure out this irrational fear of slow-moving things,
although it helps to think about my fear of cockroaches. But the difference
is that cockroaches aren�t slow. They�re frighteningly mobile over land and
air, and they�re all shiny and mahogany colored and have that gross
Paleolithic exoskeleton, with weird spiny things sticking out all over, and
those shifty antennae. And they make that gross clicking sound whenever they
touch anything because they have a HARD EXOSKELETON THAT BANGS AGAINST
Also cockroaches live in the choo. Anything that lives in the choo should be
feared. Anything that likes dark, stinky, damp places full of poo and pee
should be feared, especially because if a cockroach comes out and flies into
your leg or arse while you�re straddled there doing your business, you know
he�s covered in choo bits, and now you are too.
Chameleons, on the other hand, live in the forest. They�re pretty and green,
and sometimes they turn blue or orange or brown or red. They don�t eat poo
like the cockroach I saw eating poo in the choo in Kitui. Chameleons also
have eyeballs that move independently of each other. They can look you up
and down with one eye and scan the sky for their next meal with the other.
And they have long sticky tongues for catching flies and insects. How cool
Slugs also live in the choo, but not in the pit part. They hang out on the
walls and doors because it�s cool and dry. One day I saw one in the choo and
nudged it onto a stick because I thought it was a banana slug. Turns out it
was just a brownish slug, shaped just like a banana slug but not bright
yellow. My co-workers wouldn�t come near me, and one person suggested that
we get some salt so we could watch it die.
Well I finally figured out why I occasionally feel short of breath walking
around my village: I live 1,950 meters above sea level. That�s higher than
Denver. It also explains why I might freeze to death in Africa despite the
fact that I�m on the equator.
A few years ago a friend of mine went to southern Africa. He came back and
said, �You know, wife-beating is so common in Africa that I bet there are
African women who feel neglected if their husbands don�t beat them.� It
sounded ludicrous, and I thought he was over-rationalizing a hypothetical
situation. I was offended and disgusted by the suggestion that women are so
stupid that they could take being beaten as a sign of their husband�s love.
Last week someone told me that some women in Kenya get upset if it has been
awhile since their husbands beat them. �They start to wonder what�s wrong.
They start thinking their husband has stopped paying attention to them.�
�How does that happen?� I asked. �How does a woman come to think this way?�
�I don�t know,� he said.
In surveys of Kenyan women and girls, researchers consistently find that
most women believe it�s their responsibility not to tempt a man, and that
men bear no responsibility for their actions when it comes to sex. Lots of
women still believe that if they don�t dress modestly around the house that
they will cause their father or brother to rape them.
I find that a lot of women seem to embrace traditional gender roles just as
much as men do. My co-worker Justine, who is a counselor at the VCT, sees
labor divided clearly along gender lines, and wholeheartedly embraces her
role in the house. She�s even a bit territorial about it. When Hillary was
de-feathering chickens for Thanksgiving, she got upset and tried to kick him
out of the kitchen.
�Why are you doing women�s work?� she said. �You�re a man; go watch TV.�