On November 9, after two weeks in Kenya, my husband and I landed safely at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. It was a long journey and I was ecstatic to back on sovereign Texas soil.
When traveling abroad, one has to put aside all Western thinking; otherwise you will end up miserable for the entire trip. I knew this. I had prepared for this and yet there were several days that I found myself desperately hanging on to the end of my rope! There’s the time difference and jet lag, the food is (quite literally) foreign, and all of that is compounded by the culture shock.
Kenya is home to over 44 million people. Compared to the 319 million residents of the U.S., it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, until you compare landmass; Kenya is country approximately the size of the state of Texas, with 27 million people!! Stop and think about that for a minute; as if Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio aren’t crowded enough, imagine 7x the population squeezed into those cities! There would be sheer CHAOS, which I am convinced is what “Kenya” means in Swahili.
Time means very little in Kenya, the country as a whole is perpetually late. As an anal creature who lives by the clock this was a huge adjustment for me. Daily I struggled with, do I believe the proposed schedule and plan accordingly, or do I plan my day using “Kenyan time” and hope it all works out? Needless to say, we spent a lot of time waiting around. I used my time wisely though and got caught up on all my back issues of Runner’s World Magazine.
Public restrooms? Humph! Good luck with that. On a normal day I drink over 32 ounces of water and make frequent trips to the potty, but not in Kenya. I learned very quickly to sip water sparingly, and only if I was choking on dust or diesel because it could be eight hours between bathroom breaks. If one was fortunate enough to find a bathroom, it likely was what I lovingly call a “squatty potty” meaning not a western toilet, and sans toilet paper. Kenyans apparently enjoy a game called, “Find the Toilet Paper,” because never was it hanging on a dispenser within reach of the toilet.
U.S. travelers trust that one seat = one sitter but Kenyans make a sport of squishing as many bodies as humanly possible into all forms of public transportation. This practice caused very dark thoughts to ticker tape through my brain. Several times I had to put on my headphones, turn on my IPod and completely check out just to keep from hyperventilating. We walked many more places than our Kenya host preferred simply because of my discomfort with the Matatu’s.
Should one desire a hot shower at the end of a long, dirty, exhausting day, one must know that water only heats when a wall button is manually flipped one. We learned this lesson after suffering through a shower so cold that the neighbors outside our window surely heard my gasps.
The food was palatable, but ordering in a restaurant was a game of chance. There were no menus, you named what you wanted to eat and hoped for the best. Sukuma wiki (collared greens and kale) along with ugali (cornmeal staple) are eaten daily. The greens and kale were tasty, but ugali, not so much. Most nights I ordered chips (French Fries) and Black Currant Fanta it’s hard to go wrong with fried potatoes.
There is so much more to tell, that my next column will be, “Doin’ It Kenyan Style Part 2”.
Until Next Time,
Becky J. Miller