Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St Patrick's Day in Nairobi - Part 1

Anyone who knows me will know that I am a massive fan of St Patrick's Day - and not just because it's the day you're allowed to break Lent. I love the parades, the funfairs, the dressing up in green, all of it. Even the profile picture for this blog was taken on Paddy's Day. From 2006 to 2010 I was to be found every St Patrick's Day roaming the streets of Dublin with a pot of green facepaint in one hand, a paintbrush in the other, and a Suas fundraising bucket slung over my arm.

Green skirt, white tights and (out of shot) orange shoes.
Photo credit: Derek Dunne
Even Molly Malone can't escape the shamrock treatment
Photo Credit: Derek Dunne

This and last year I have found myself away from Ireland for St Patrick's Day; last year in London, this year in Nairobi. But both times I have brought my enthusiasm for all things green and shamrock-shaped with me. This year, I was delighted to round up a crowd of Irish and international alike to watch the Ireland-England rugby match, put on a bit of green and have a bit of craic. I also got an excuse to unleash the - barely suppressed - playschool teacher in me and indulge in some TLM making (Teaching and Learning Materials for the non-Suas readers) with Laura Bennison. Between us we made this banner for display in Kengele's (the closest thing Nairobi has to an Irish bar)

It's lucky I have a massive living room for
such big art and craft activities!

Sadly, I could not find green facepaint anywhere in Nairobi but thanks to Mammy Wickham, and the surprisingly efficient Kenyan postal service, I was able to brand friends, bar staff and strangers alike with temporary Paddy's Day tattoos/transfers. Armed with a water bottle and a sponge I went around the bar dabbing and peeling, dabbing and peeling... It turns out that sponges are not as effective as j-cloths for the application of the transfers (I carried a j-cloth in a ziploc bag for tattoo application at the parade in London last year, I told you I love this festival!) and there was water on people's faces and necks, in a puddle around their feet, on me.... But as the night went on this seemed to matter less and less.

The beautiful Helen and Nicole model the
latest in temporary tattoo glamour!

Now despite the disappointing result in the rugby for us Irish, a great night was had. The band were brilliant and even played a couple of Irish songs, including Wild Rover and the Fields of Athenry (twice, within a half hour!)

Good band, great banner.

Laura and I pose in front of our handiwork

Now, as the title of the blog suggests this is not the end of my St Patrick's Day adventures. Next time I'll update you on my adventures at the St Patrick's Day Ball at the Hilton (swish, I know!).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Things I've Learned in Kenya - Part 3

It's been a while since I posted a 'things I've learned' entry. Perhaps it's a sign that I've learned all I can in Kenya? Ha! Unlikely! Here are a couple of recent things that I've learned.

A Kenyan child in a woolly hat trumps every other child in the world in terms of cuteness

Despite the fact that it's still summer here (just about), small Kenyan schoolchildren insist on wearing woolly hats. Well they probably don't insist on it their parents do but still. I am beginning to think they wear them to play up their cuteness and not for any heat-keeping-in purposes.

Now, I've seen cute children before. There were at least 3 children that I tried to sneak out of my school in Calcutta on the last day. And I volunteer for UNICEF so my desktop background at work is a revolving slideshow of ridiculously cute children. But the Kenyan kids with their little woolly hearts would melt the heart of a stone as Mammy Wickham would say. If there were a top trumps for children of different nationalities (and, you know, there shouldn't be as it would pose lots of ethical issues but bare with me) Kenyan children would score 100 for cuteness.

You need proof? Well I haven't got any from this trip and I think whipping out my camera to take pictures of small children on the bus in the morning might get me in trouble but here's an illustration from Gatoto School that I took back in 2009.

See? See? Or is it just me?

Just because it's dry doesn't mean I can't ruin more of my trousers

So one of my first entries on this blog detailed an unfortunate incident involving cream trousers, a matatu and some mud. Since then I have sensibly removed all items from my wardrobe that show up mud really badly. Considering the fact that it has rained only once in the past 7 weeks, just how have I managed to dirty myself up? Well now the mud has been replaced by dust. Lots and lots of dust. So now all of my black and navy trousers are covered in a layer of dust by the time I have completed my 3 matutu journey and have reached the office. I consider my ability to dirty myself to be a special gift. It could almost be my superpower. Though admittedly it would be a really rubbish superpower. Almost as rubbish as this one.

Swahili is hard

I've been trying to learn Swahili while I'm here. Admittedly, I haven't always been as dedicated to this goal as I should have been. In recent weeks however Nicole and I have found the time, and the enthusiasm, to go back for lessons with Lucy. Up until this point when I show off my (limited) Swahili skills to my colleagues, the security guards in our estate, the person sitting next to me on the bus, I tell them how much I enjoy Swahili as it's quite a straight-forward, mathematical language. They in return praise me for being able to say things like 'I am going to work', 'I have returned.' Everyone in Kenya has become my Swahili teacher in some shape or form.

Recent lessons with Lucy as we begin to delve into the more complicated grammar stuff have proved my assertions wrong. One quick example, Swahili, as a language, isn't big on prepositions. Very few exist in the language. So, how does one say 'I will cook for you.'? So ni is I, ta means future tense, ku in this situation means you, and then pika is to cook. So, nitakupika. Except, wait, no. That literally means 'I will cook you'. Not exactly a sentence one needs (unless you're Hannibal Lector). So the very patient Lucy taught up how the verb itself changes so that this translation should actually be nitakupikia. A small, but vital difference you'll agree.

And do you know how many verb endings to convey lots of slightly different situations there are? 6! Expect a rant in coming weeks when we have to learn about the 9 different types of nouns. 9!

Studying hard with Lucy
(photo courtesy of Nicole)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Andrea Wickham - Domestic Goddess?

Well not quite. Nigella doesn't have to worry about having a pretender to her throne just yet. But I am rather proud of how my new-found domestic abilities will now make an adequate housewife some day.

As well as cutting out (most of) my clothes shopping here, I've also become a really efficient grocery shopper here. Nicole and I now do one epic shop a month. This involves a very long list, many shopping bags, and a taxi home afterwards (as we'd never make it on and off the Starbus with all of our purchases) This is when I buy all my cosmetic stuff - shampoo and the like - house cleaning-y stuff and food that will last for a few weeks. Like, for example tins and jars of things. On our first trip I *may* have gone a little overboard on the tins and jars. In the second picture below those cans are three deep. Suffice to say I have still not gotten through all of that food.

The heart-warming (and slightly hunger-inducing)
 sight of a fully stocked pantry.

Jars (and tins) of joy.

The rest of the shopping is done in Kangemi market and in the small but perfectly formed Three Ways Supermarket in Kangemi. At the supermarket I pick up juice, milk, bread that sort of thing. And then I make my way into the heart of Kangemi market for my fruits and vegetables (or produce as my delightful American/British housemate Nicole would say). 

Kangemi market is a maze in the truest sense of the word.It's almost impossible to describe without showing it to you. And I wouldn't feel comfortable whipping out my camera around Kangemi, it would definitely lower my street cred. For those of you who will be out in the summer a trip to the market is on your itinerary. You enter the market through one row of semi-covered and then make your way past stalls selling various combinations of new and second-hand clothes, household goods, clocks, electronics... The first time I went to the market by myself I missed the left-turn to get to the fruit and vegetable section (which is just after a stall selling new jeans) and spent a good five minutes wandering around like an eejit, trying in vain to look like I knew where I was going. Once you make the correct turn, a bit more weaving down the make-shift alleys and you're in an open air square with market stalls on all four sides, as well as rows of women sitting in the middle selling potatoes, corn, spinach and other vegetables. 

I really enjoy our weekend trips to the market. Despite having done it almost every week for the past few months our shipping trip still elicits bemused stares (the grown-ups) and cries of 'mzungu, mzungu, how are you?' (the children). I now have a pretty good routine, I know which stall will have good courgettes or tomatoes. I know around which corner to look for coriander. I know where to pick up the best looking mangoes in all of East Africa. The great thing about Kangemi is most of the prices are displayed on the stalls so I never need to worry about getting charged mzungu prices, or having to haggle. The whole trip makes me feel part of the community, even if it's just in a very small way.

God I miss washing machines. Not a sentence I'd ever imagine I would write down but it's heart-breakingly true. After hand-washing a double duvet cover I will never, ever, take washing machines for granted again. Oh Indesit at home in Navan, you are a wonder. I am almost surprised there aren't more country and western songs, or ballads perhaps, which touch on this theme.

Our detergent of choice here is called Toss. All good
puns/innuendos greatly appreciated.

The hand-washing of clothes has been a bit of a try and error process. I've obviously hand-washed bits and pieces in the past, but maxi dresses and trousers? Where does one even begin? And then there's the issue of detergent, too much and the clothes take forever to rinse, too little and they're not clean. Sigh. I think I have the ratio down now though, for the time being. And so, part of every weekend is spent kneeling in the yard having a good aul scrub of my blouses and cardis and the like. 

Tis grand weather for drying.

On the plus side Nairobi in the dry season is perfect drying weather. Every day 'is a grand day for drying', warm, sunny and a bit windy - perfect. However with the long rains season practically upon us this is soon to change. Major sadface.

As those of you who've met me will already know I'm not a natural cook. I don't mind the process but I don't enjoy it the way other people seem to. I thought I might as I got older. So far, nothing. But I do it out of necessity, for I am still a woman on a budget.

Every weekend (usually on Sunday) I make a massive meal which then becomes my lunch for 3-4 days of the following week. I would love to eat one of the restaurants at the UN but they charge Western prices so I only eat there if I'm feeling flash (which is rare) or if I get someone to take me for lunch (I'm getting pretty good at accepting a free lunch). So every Sunday I whip up a (normally veggie) pasta dish, or curry, or cous cous-y dish of some sort. I am eating, or at least cooking very little meat here. Again, it's expensive when you compare it to the price of good fruits and veggies. Though, sometimes the urge for a bit of red meat does take over. There appears to be no danger of me going full on vegetarian anytime soon (although on that, I recently came across a TED talk of a guy who espouses a 'weekday vegetarian' theory but I digress)

Spaghetti bolognese, this week's lunch.
All of this preparedness is made possible by two things 1) the ridiculously large amount of tupperware we have in our house and 2) our beauty of a fridge. VSO volunteers rarely have fridges. However I was fortunate enough to move into a fully kitted out house so I put a chunk of my furnishings allowance into a kitty and we invested in the beauty of a machine you see below. We are very, very lucky volunteers.

A small sample of our extensive range of tupperware.

Isn't she a beauty? Name suggestions welcome!

To say that I've taken up or learned to sew while I'm here would, in fact, be a lie. But I had you going there for a second, didn't I?

Apologies if you think this the world's most boring post but these activities take up a lot of my time and therefore, I think, warrant inclusion. It's not all MTV premieres, and acting presidential you know?
Next time I'll get back to discussing matters of national political importance and the like.