Saturday, June 23, 2012

Things I've Learned in Kenya - Part 4

Matatu Stages are displays of Market Economics at its most pure

I know very little about economics. And it's something I always lament. I am often heard to say 'I wish I knew more about economics'. It would probably help me decide whether or not to head back to Europe in a few months.

Thanks to Professor P.J. Drudy and 'Introduction to Economic Policy' way back in my Junior Freshman year of Trinity I do know the (very) basics . Like supply and demand and how that interaction determines prices in a pure market economy. And last Tuesday waiting at the matatu stage I saw Professor Drudy's lectures come to life.

The matatu stage at the bottom of UN avenue (yes, it's really called that) was packed and there wasn't a matatu to be seen. Which is very unusual. On most occasions when I get to that stage there are a couple of matatus waiting and I have a chance to pick the one that is offering me the best seat. But that day there were about 40 people waiting and no sign of any transport coming. We waited, and when one eventually came it was chaos. Everyone ran towards it until the conductor shouted the price. 60 bob into town. 60 bob! It's normally 30 bob. At that point more than half the people slunk away, including myself, unwilling to pay that price. But the conductor found 13 people more than happy to pay it and off he went. Another matatu pulled up and the same thing happened. So the crowd had thinned. A third matatu pulled up trying to charge 50 and  the people that we left were having none of it. A few got on but most people stood where they were. After a minute or two the conductor shouted 'town, town, 40 bob' and the matatu filled up in seconds. This third conductor wasn't facing the high level of demand that the first two had and so had to adjust his prices accordingly.

Actually these displays happen everyday. When I pick up a bus or matatu at Westlands for the last leg of my journey home it often takes me a few minutes to get on one. Not that there's not many matatus going in my direction, it's just that they're charging me more than I want to pay. So I shop around, ask a few different conductors until finally I find one that's charging 40 shillings as opposed to 60 shillings. It's a 20 bob difference but it's all part of everyday life here in Kenya.

My fervour for sports and dressing up only increases the further from Ireland I go

This isn't something I've learned about Kenya, but it's something I've learned *in* Kenya about myself, so it still counts. Sort of.

I love a good sporting occasion. Preferably one where country or county pride is involved. When I'm in Ireland I try to go to as many Meath matches as I can. I have been known to wear bright green tights to these matches, as well as a skirt and my jersey. On one occasion I wore two pairs of tights, one yellow, one green, with a leg in each. I am *exactly* that cool. I was once asked by a steward in Croke Park, an elderly gentleman shall we say, whether my stockings (the green tights) went 'all the way up'. Shudder. When my brother's school was in the Leinster final in Gaelic football I wore amber coloured tights with black patterned tights over them so I would be the right combination of black and amber.

Since I can't watch GAA here in Kenya I was excited about the prospect of getting into some good sporting spirit during the Euros in support of Ireland. So off in search of an Irish jersey I went. I mentioned in an earlier blogpost that donated clothes from Ireland make their way over to Kenya and other African countries and end up getting sold in second-hand clothes markets. I'd seen Kenyans wearing Irish soccer jerseys before and didn't think I'd have any problems picking some up. My friend Kristen who accompanied me to the market on the Sunday morning in question was sceptical that I would find what she imagined would be a rather rare commodity. Within 20 minutes I had found 4 retro Irish soccer jerseys and so I had my pick of the best two for Amy and I. The price I paid for them? 450 shillings, about €4.30.

My haul from the second hand market.
One for me, and one for Amy.
Jerseys bought  it was time for the rest of the outfits to be put together. Luckily I had some of the temporary tattoos left over from St Patrick's Day and some of the flags I had acquired (nicked) from the tables at the Irish Ball so we left for the pub delighted with ourselves.

Dressed and ready for some 'COYBIG' cheering

Hardcore supporters.

When we arrived at the pub we were the only people wearing jerseys. The only people. A little embarrassed by our enthusiasm we took seats at the bar near one of the smaller screens to watch the Spain Italy match. Almost everyone that passed us did a little double take to see the two girls up at the bar completely decked out in green, white and gold. Most smiled at us. Some looked a little embarrassed for us. Once the Ireland game started and some of our friends arrived I like to think that we didn't look quite as odd but I'm sure we did.

Now I didn't lick this enthusiasm off the stones. I place the blame for this fervour on my mother.

Exhibit A) Our family at a match supporting my little brother when he was playing football for his school. Notice Mammy Wickham's yellow jumper and black trouser combo. What you can't see is the yellow and black socks she is sporting, I kid you not.

The Wickham family - never ones to shy
away from an occasion to dress up.

Mum loves dressing up. She wears a uniform at work but even still she manages to dress up. If Meath get to a certain advanced stage of the All Irelnad Championship she will paint her nails green and yellow. At Christmas she wears Christmassy earrings, mistletoe, flashing Christmas trees etc. At Hallowe'en she'll sport pumpkin earrings. My mother is a little bit cracked and I absolutely love her for it. And I love that I seem to have inherited it.

Men in Kenya and the Carly Rae Jepsen method of picking up women

Many of you may not know who Caryl Rae Jepsen is. And if you are over 15 that is understandable (if not wholly forgiveable). For those of you who are older than the average Belieber Carly Rae Jepsen is a Canadian singer who released a song called ‘Call Me Maybe’ late last year. The song received some airplay and a few hits on YouTube. However when Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale and lots of their Disney Clubber mates made this video the song went viral. Fast. To be fair it is a rather catchy poppy tune but it once again shows the awesome power of tweenagers and the internet.

Anyways, the reason I bring it up is to do with the song’s lyrics. Jepsen sings

‘Hey, I just met you.
And this is crazy.
But here’s my number.
So call me maybe.’

This appears to be how many of my interactions with random Kenyan men go. Except instead of giving me their number they insist they would like to have my number because they think I am interesting/beautiful/insert insincere platitude here despite having met me only seconds earlier. In the past couple of weeks small talk conversations on buses, matatus, at a work conference for religious leaders (!), queueing for takeaway coffee have all led to requests for my number. This is not new. It has happened since I arrived in Kenya but I am getting increasingly confident about saying 'I'd rather not'. Though I will admit I have given a wrong number out on a few occasions too. Or my latest trick is to make up an imaginary partner and laugh out the request with a casual ‘oh well now, I’m not sure how happy my partner would be about me giving my number to other men.’ That usually (but not always) does the trick. 

As annoying as this gets will I miss it when I'm back home? The attention? The flattery, exaggerated as it is? It's going to be very strange going back to a place where I no longer stick out all the time, where I blend in, where I look like everyone else.

Also in this series:


  1. Ah thanks LC! Tis a bit of a random one but I enjoyed writing it. Hope all's well with you!