20 October 2007


Yesterday we drove three hours to the nearest big town. “Big” means essentially that it has one restaurant which serves something other than lentils and rice (in this case, it serves chicken by the half or quarter, or beef, with rice and some soggy chips/fries/whatever you want to call fried potato slices). We went to the bigger town for several reasons, including the fact that I had never been there (I’ve either been gone or otherwise engaged every time a trip was made) and that Visiting Colleague needed a fan (unavailable in the town where he is based) and that we were running low on Pringles (the horror, the horror).

Here at home, we buy our groceries at what we call “the Nakumatt.” Nakumatt is a Kenyan chain that sells everything you can imagine. It’s like a Super Wa.lm.art, but with two floors and more stuff. Like motorbikes. Obviously this is a joke, because our town’s single store is about the size of… well, it’s smaller than a bodega in New York. Think of the store in Little House on the Prairie. Cut it in half, and make two walls open to the outside, so there are only actual products on two walls. Now add lots of boxes and cartons of things like dates in the middle of the floor, and a cooler of soda, and you have our village Nakumatt. You can buy soap and toothpaste and sesame cakes and tea and powdered milk. For anything else – why would you need anything else?

So, Bigger Town. We left late, because the car was needed for things like fetching water (constant, constant struggle). Then we drove and drove and drove. The road is no longer under water like it was a few weeks ago, but there were various other complications that delayed us, and we barely got lunch. Then I asked for tea and they brought me Lipton, when I had seen that they were making the good stuff in the kitchen. Eh. Lipton. Gross. I went back and asked for the real thing and got a little glass of dark tea too hot to pick up in my hand.

We walked through the market in the hot sun, with me muttering about “Stupid blue eyes. What did people do before sunglasses? This is why people my color didn’t survive in Africa. Before sunscreen. Before sunglasses. We just roasted. Burned and shriveled up. I have no DEFENSES.” It’s true. I feel pickled by the sun. I have nothing to keep it from burning me red and sucking the hydration right out of me. Nothing but some sunscreen and the hope of shelter coming soon. I am not at all trying to minimize the problem of racism in the world (which I think is a huge, immeasurable problem), but sometimes I wonder how on earth light-skinned people ever even got into a position in which we had enough power that we COULD be racist. I mean, the sun itself should kill pink-skinned people off in much of the world. We should all be dead, if natural selection had its rightful way. Maybe we will be soon, and the world will be free of a lot of problems. (Although. Most hilarious post I’ve ever read on a blog: Blueberries for Nana – second paragraph, people. Second paragraph. Go read it.)

Moving on.

So, we walked through a never-ending market and picked up some cinnamon bark and a mirror and two dvds for someone else and a shiny silver fan, eventually relying on my foolproof sense of direction which said that the lost vehicle was THAT WAY (pointing over the roofs of the stalls) to re-find our car, while I announced to the world that my MOM not only has a foolproof sense of direction, but she can tell you which way is north WHEREVER YOU ARE. Man, I’m homesick.

At the convenience store at the petrol station (this is what passes for a supermarket), I selected some Sour Cream and Onion Pringles, for a change of pace from the plain ones, and then we drove three hours home.

(Why is there a charter plane landing here right now? The TIME is all wrong.)

We were getting near to home and anticipating arriving in time to get in some internet before it got dark (once it’s dark, no internet, because the solar can’t recharge the batteries anymore) when we came upon a long line of cars blocked from passage by a stuck truck and a stuck bus. Nice. The rain has almost stopped, but it rained here a little bit yesterday, and the top layer of the road got slippery and the sides of the road got soft. There were men hammering away at the ground with shovels, and cars lined up in both directions. We got out and walked past the mess and tried to call for another organization to come and fetch us so we could leave the driver with the car overnight or until someone sorted it all out, but the sat phone wasn't working and soon a minibus decided to chance the narrow gap between the two stuck vehicles. It got stuck itself, and pushed out by dozens of men, and slid around wildly, hitting the stuck bus, but it eventually made it through and there behind it was the high radio antenna of our Land Cruiser, with the old, nearly-blind driver at the wheel, proudly driving straight through without a problem, due to the four-wheel drive.

Agency regulations, like those of most organizations, forbid the taking on of passengers, so we had to leave behind the many, many people who asked us to take them on to town. Sometimes I hate regulations and I long for the Rwanda days, when I made the rules myself and I would have just piled in as many people as could fit and watched the babies jostle the chickens in the rear-view mirror.

It was dark by the time we got home. No internet. And there was no charcoal to make chips/fries/ whatever you want to call fried potato slices with the potatoes we had bought. I ate rice and oatmeal and we watched a movie on the computer.

No comments: