Local Time in Korr, Kenya

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Big Adventure in the City

Just some photos of the kids' time in Nairobi before the headed off to their Kenyan Students Christian Fellowship conference!

Isiolo is the town that acts as the major transport hub between Northern and Southern Kenya. It's got all the unfortunate social depravity that often comes along with a roadside town (No, I will not be your "angel" you creepy man.), but it also has some nice amenities like toilets that flush and cafes. For some of the students, it was their first time to eat at a restaraunt and I can tell they loved it because spoons weren't even placed down for a photo.

From Isiolo to Nairobi we rode in a "matatu," or taxi-van complete with a television that played cheesy Kenyan music videos. Most of the kids got car sick, though, so watching MTV Kenya wasn't really an option anymore. What a loss.

What trip to Nairobi would be complete without a trip to the Nairobi National Game Park Animals Orphanage! Juevenile lions, buffalo, ostriches, dikdiks, and even a couple crocodiles provided plenty of entertainment for the afternoon! (This is the kids pointing out their favourite young lioness and playing chicken with an unstable looking ostrich. First to get bit, loses.)

One of the Members of Parliament from the north invited our students to come and observe Parliament in session one day, which was quite the fieldtrip! Everyone put on their uniforms and I got funny looks because I wasn't wearing heels, but they kids were very keen at being in the middle of "government" happening. Although no cameras were allowed inside the building, here's the students eating their lunch in the parliament garden and in front of Kenya's coat of arms.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Discrimination: An Education

In Korr, I often feels it's only my burnable skin and a preference for cold sodas and toilet paper that separates me from the rest of the community. I've got a Rendille family that calls me their own and has given me an identity in their clan, I can hold a half-ways decent conversation with friends and even strangers, and people know I'm the English teacher at Tirrim Secondary. However, I've have recently had to question all these "similarities" I've just taken for granted before.

I've just traveled down to Nairobi with seven of my students who have been invited for a Christian conference here this week. We came two days early, and so planned out some "cultural" experiences for the kids, among which were a trip to a shopping mall (they didn't quite know what to do with themselves and were scared of all stores except the bookshop), went to the zoo (they'd seen it all before), and then met up with one of our northern Ministers of Parliament for a viewing session of Parliament.

When greeting the M.P. (who is evidently a pretty good guy by M.P. standards), he asked me, "So how do you see the difference between you and the students?" I must admit I wasn't all too sure what he was saying, and said as much. His reply was, "Well, you know, you have white skin and they are black." I could have said, "Well, Sir, how do you see the difference?" but I decided on a more diplomatic approach and said, "I don't believe we're all that different Sir," and quite honestly until that point I hadn't really even thought of it.

However, being in Nairobi with my kids, we are all totally removed from "our" community. They're quite nervous around all the cars and miss the twice daily chai break, and I don't know anything about Swahili. Just as much as they're out of their element, so am I. The entire framework of our lives, even our views of each other, seems to have been thrown out of whack. To many Kenyans, it's still strange to even see a white person with a black person, let alone a white girl traveling around with a bunch of Kenyan students and teachers and acting like its totally normal. So, all of a sudden, in the students' eyes and mine, I've become the outsider - the "other." This may be the first time the kids have seen me in a position where someone has looked at me sideways and implied, "What are you doing here?" The kids often say that they want to become Americans and several have explicitly said that they wish they were white, but is it such a tempting alternative now that they've seen me on the receiving end of racial prejudice?

It's not even just that I'm white, but that I'm a young woman too. When stopping in a roadside town called Isiolo while on the way to Nairobi, I got a couple hoots and even a really lame, "Hey Angel!" One, the students have hardly seen me interact with men my age. Two, they have NEVER seen me treated with the disrespect an ill-raised, vulgar, and far too over-confident man can impart. There was even a man in downtown Nairobi who thought he was cool enough to come up to my Kenyan coworker and say to her, in front of my students and myself, "You can just give me this nice British lady."

Being white in a predominantly black community is not that great when that black community is not also your community. Alicia used to say, "I just don't like being the central float in the parade," and at this point I utterly agree with her. I hate coming to town, being marched down the middle of a street, and having the citizens find entertainment or a stimulating shock value (I don't know which) in my otherness.

So, now I wonder now about two things. First, am I actually as much a part of the Rendille as I thought I was, or do I just have idealistic beliefs that Jesus and love make the valleys between people turn to flat land? Am I actually letting myself feel more at home than I really am, and are there people who laugh at my familiarity with the Rendille? Do the Rendille themselves do this? Is this a phenomenon of down-country or a reality of Korr I didn't realize, or didn't want to realize?

Secondly, what do my students think now that they've seen me basically assaulted for being white? How do they process their initial beliefs about the total "goodness" of white skin, and what they've observed this past week? Are they disillusioned or disturbed by their teacher being so publicly put upon? Perhaps they are actually clueless of the implications of these things that have been said because of my color.

I haven't got the answers, but I feel a bit disillusioned myself for not even thinking to ask the questions earlier!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Ask Dumb Questions

While at the Nairobi National Park Animal Orphanage today, I asked one of my students, "Joseph, have you ever seen a cheetah this close before?" I thought I knew the answer and was totally observing a new and exciting animal encounter for this guy. He just looked at me and with the calmest voice ever said, "No, Madame, one time a cheetah came right up and took one of my goats so I tried to stone it."

Oh, interesting.