Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another side of Kenya...

(I drafted this blogpost way back in June and then, for many reasons, put it aside. However I think it's important that I more frequently broadcast all sides of my time in Kenya, so here it is. I am well and truly out of the doldrums now, for the record, and back loving life in Nairobi.)

This blog on the whole has tended to highlight the lighter side of my time here. I've talked about my travels, the animals and characters I've encountered, quirky Kenyan fashions or idiosyncrasies. I have purposefully steered away from some of the more difficult aspects of life here. But in the past few weeks these have been such a huge part of my life that I feel that it is only right that this blog deals with some challenging recent events.

A robbery
It took me a long time to decide whether to broadcast this here or not. In the end I decided that an account of my time here should attempt to show the variety of experiences that I am having, work-related or extra-curricular, Nairobi or 'up-country' based, rough and smooth.

I had my handbag snatched a few weeks ago when on a weekend away on the coast. While walking between pubs in a group a man ran up behind me and yanked my small yellow handbag from me, leaving the strap dangling around me. I remember knowing, for the second or two before it happened, what was going to happen. I could hear someone running behind me and just had some sort of women's intuition about it (or spidey sense, one could say either). My first instinct was to run after the guy, within seconds I realised this was a stupid idea and promptly stopped. But not before I was across the road, with one flip-flop discarded on the road behind me. The pulling on the thin strap of my bag left a mark on my neck, and as I had been holding the bag the guy managed to break a few of my nails in the process. Apart from that I was absolutely fine. Just shaken up. And I remained so for a few days afterwards. I just felt vulnerable, exposed and I didn't like it. I hate being weak and dislike not being in control. And for the past few weeks this is how I have felt.

Water water everywhere
But not a drop to drink. Or to wash clothes with. Or do dishes. Or flush toilets. For 20 days in May we were without water in our Mountain View house. Now many VSO volunteers live in very remote rural placements where they do not have running water so I know that we Mountain View residents are extremely lucky and have been spoiled these past few months with our flowing taps. But when it is there every day (albeit rationed) you take it for granted. And we did. But we are resourceful women. We bought water and rationed it carefully. We showered in other people's houses. We collected rain water to flush the toilets with. We got on with things. But in a month of many other frustrations it added to my general malaise.

The cold
I had been warned about the cold months of June and July but I didn't heed these warnings. How could it really be that cold? I come from Ireland for goodness sake! Nairobi could never be as cold as Ireland. Well that is indeed true. A Nairobi winter is never actually as cold as an Irish one. Temperatures in June and July are about 15 degrees during the day and drop to maybe 10 degrees at night. But it feels colder. I have been wandering the house in a hoodie and two pairs of socks most evenings this week. I have taken to wearing arm warmers in the office which is, admittedly, ridiculous but has definitely helped. My reaction can partly be explained by the fact that 7 months into my time here I have become acclimatised. But that is only part of the story. Buildings here are built so that they keep cool during the hot months of January and February. They don't have the insulation, let alone the heating systems that an Irish house would have. So, when temperatures drop the house almost feel colder than outside.

At a low ebb
I have felt myself a bit worn down of late. I hope it's not too evident on the outside but I do feel a little less than my usual chirpy self. My patience for the everyday hassles of Kenyan life has definitely diminished. To my shame I have shouted, nay screamed at matatu conductors who have tried to swindle me out of 10 shillings (about 10 cent). I have sometimes flatly ignored the 'Hi's and 'How are you's as I change matatus in the morning, unwilling to even feign enthusiasm.

7 months in I am tired. It would be nice to blend in for a few minutes. To not be such an oddity, such a target. I'm sure these feelings have been exacerbated by recent stresses in other parts of my life, and I do feel that they will subside, but right not Kenya is wearing me down a little bit. I think the sub-title says it all. I am at a low ebb here, but my spirits will lift again.

Luckily I have wonderful friends here, and back home, who are an invaluable support. They allow me ample time for 'ventage' over coffees or Skype calls. They cheer me up with their tales. They help me to put my frustrations into perspective. And things are, definitely, starting to look up.

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