Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A big Kenyan wedding

On Saturday February 4th I marked 3 months in Kenya by attending my first wedding ever. Ever ever. Not just in Kenya, ever. Which has caused quite the disbelief among anyone I've told it to. So you can imagine how excited I was when Barbara's boss Josephine invited Barbara, Nicole and I to her son, Aestimo's wedding. I was going to get to experience my first ever wedding, and in Kenya.
Housemates all dressed up for the day (Photo credit Nicole)

So the 3 housemates dolled ourselves up and headed off for the day. We arrived at the Jubilee Christian Church almost an hour late, but in true Kenyan style the bride didn't arrive for another 40 minutes.

Guests arrive at the wedding on a Starbus!

The bride arrives
The religious ceremony itself was pretty similar to an Irish wedding, or any other wedding, from my limited knowledge of these things. Although, the Minister was probably a bit more craic than your average Irish priest and at times was more like an MC trying to enthuse both the crowd, and the affianced couple.
The Minister shares his experiences of married life.

Having a bit of an aul praise.

The reception was then held at the Sir Usufali Sports Club, a lovely outdoor venue (just off the Thika Road, for those Nairobi folks who might be interested!). The guests were split once again into bride and grooms sides, this time facing each other with the wedding cake marquay in the middle. I very much appreciated the fact that the cake got its own marquay.

Groom's side of the reception

Barbara and Peter go to look for seats for us.
We arrived at the reception around 2ish and the girls and I were delighted to find that the food was served almost straightaway. Despite having brought snacks with us in our handbags (this is Kenya and since nothing runs to time I find having snacks on me at all time stops me getting cranky) we were famished. The food served was traditional Kenyan fare, rice, ugali, dishes with beans, dishes with peas, and goat and chicken.

Yum, dinner! (Photo credit Nicole)

And then came the presenting of the gifts! Which involved the various groups related to the couple, different family groups, different groups from their respective village/homeplace, colleagues dancing and singing their way to the couple to present them with present. There were also speeches. Lots of speeches. All of which were in Kiswahili so the girls and I understood about 1 word in 20. We later found out that the speeches were conducted in Kiswahili purely for our benefit, as some of the wedding party/MC thought we spoke Kiswahili. Had we not been there they would have taken place in Kikuyu. We didn't have the heart to tell them that we don't speak very good Kiswahili. Tunafahamu kidogo (we understand a little).

One of the groups of women dance and sing their
way to the couple  to present their gift.

The most interesting thing about this part of the day was when the bride and groom were presented with a bed by the bride's family, which was then made right in front of us. We were told by the lovely lady sitting next to us that this is a Kikuyu tradition. From what I understand of it, this is to signify that this is where the woman is now to sleep, and she is not to go back to her family (ie leave her marital bed) without her husband. I think the undertone of this is that you don't give up on your marriage in the Kikuyu culture, no matter what.

A member of the bride's family presents a bed to the couple
and explains the significance behind this Kikuyu tradition.

The couple try out their new bed.

Photographer extraordinaire Barbara gets closer to the action.

About to cut the cake. Which I have now decided is the
best part of any wedding.

All in all it was a wonderful day. I got to spend time with my charming housemates, I got to witness some proper Kenyan culture, and I got to put on a nice frock - a good day all round I say!

Housemates with the beautiful mother of the groom, Josephine.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The different perks of my job

So my placement has many perks. I work in a beautiful complex which is surrounded on all sides by forest and tea plantations. I work with colleagues who, for the most part, are dedicated, hard-working and passionate. There is a post office, bank and lots of places to eat on site so I don't have to go far to run errands or feed my sugar cravings.

But the best perks of my job are, in my opinion, when I get to go out and meet the different communities that UNICEF, and my department in particular, works with. So one Sunday a couple of weeks ago I headed to Makongeni Sports Ground for the Nairobi final of the Young Leaders for Life Girl's Football Tournament. The tournament is sponsored by UNICEF and is implemented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs and I was invited along to represent UNICEF on the day. As such, I mainly spent the day watching football, playing with the many children who came up to stare at/poke/stroke the hair of the mzungu and speaking to the young women on the teams.The focus of the project is manifold. The main objective is to provide young women with a safe space to play sport, but also to discuss issues of health, HIV/AIDS, work on their self-confidence. Their training sessions are as much about life skills training as they are about football skills practice. The tournament days themselves, held in various informal settlements through the city, are a chance for local communities to get together to watch and support the teams. But throughout the day messages around health seeking behaviours are communicated, whether it's through the commentator who uses the lulls in action to talk about the importance of knowing your status, exclusive breast-feeding or immunisations. Or through the various groups that entertain the spectators and weave similar messages into their dances, songs or drama skits. There is even a VCT tent at the matches so that those who want to get tested for HIV can do so there and then.

Before the grand final I was asked to accompany the Director of Sports in Nairobi in being introduced to the teams - my very first taste of what it would be like to be President. The shaking hands and small talk I loved but then I was asked to give a speech for which I was definitely not prepared for. I hastily introduced myself in my broken Kiswahili and then spoke a few words about how important it is for them, as young women to be leaders in their communities etc etc. I aimed for inspirational. Judging by the looks on the girls' faces I landed more around confusing. After the I presented some of the prizes to the winning teams, which included new football boots and kits, as well as medals and a pretty snazzy cup.

But the absolute best part of my day was talking to people from the local area itself, both the children With the children I mainly used my 'kidogo' kiswahili to ask the name and age of any child that would listen to me. And with the slightly older people I was able to talk about thsuch as unemployment, poor healthcare facilities, poor sanititation facilities... stories all too common in settlements such as this one. What marks Makongeni out from other informal settlements in Nairobi is that it looks anything but informal. It was built by the British for railway workers in the middle part of the twentieth century and so the structures, for the most part, are built from cement and brick, giving it an entirely different look and feel from areas such as Mathare, in the east of the city, or Kangemi, the area by my house. It feels spacious, which is something that no other similar area can attest to. In Kamgemi almost all of the available space is taken up with homes, and businesses too, squeezed in between other structures. The order of Makongeni is striking.

Below are a few pictures that I took myself on the day. I'll see if I can track down a couple of pictures of me praciticing my presidential handshake and upload them later.

The crowd gathers to watch the games

Some of the housing blocks at Makongeni

Where's it going to land?

One of the drama skits

Some of the very talented children from Kibera Talent Revue

Having a bit of a dance

The VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) Test
The winning team with their prizes
Nairobi's mayor presents the cup to the captain of the winning team

On an entirely different note, one of the other perks of my job recently has been to work with MTV and HIV Free Generation on our joint Shuga project. This meant I was able to wrangle an invite to the glitzy premiere of the 2nd series of the TV show which was held at Nairobi National Museum a couple of Fridays ago. It was a world away from my Makongeni adventures, that's for sure. Free cocktail upon arrival, canapes, all in the beautiful surroundings of the musuem exhibits. Sipping cocktails next to a giant stuffed giraffe and Massai shields. Yeah, I could get used to that! The screening itself took place in a massive tent in the grounds of the musuem and was followed by a Q and A with the uber glamorous cast. Once again, I don't have pictures of this event myself (I didn't want to be *that* mzungu) but I'll try to source a few to put up here in a couple of days.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

4 months in song

To mark the upcoming occasion of my 4 month anniversary (as it were) in Kenya here are some of the songs that have represented the past few months of experiences for me. I really hope these links work! And I hope also it gives you a good flavour as to the soundtrack of my life recently.

Where Can You See Lions?

This song has been on my radar for quite a few years (ever since my first trip to Kenya back in 2009) but this year I had the pleasure of introducing it to a whole new group of people - my fellow VSO volunteers - both during pre-departure and once I'd arrived here. If this is not stuck in your head for weeks, you are made of stone!

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Spending my first Christmas away from home was a little strange, and even a wee bit sad at times but thanks to Christmas FM and lots of Christmas tunes donated to me by my housemate Nicole I was able to get into the Christmas spirit, even if it was 28 degrees outside.

Sawa Sawa

This song is played everywhere I go. It is played repeatedly at any of the sporting events I attend with UNICEF. It's a jingle on some of the radio stations here. It even turns up in the TV version of MTV's Shuga. And it's ridiculously catchy. Which is grand. Except for the fact that everytime I sing it people tell me it's a bit of a rude song, that it's about Nigerian prostitutues or something along those lines. But that might just be their way of getting me to stop singing it.

Today is my Wedding Day

Another classic 'ear worm' tune, this song was played multiple times at the wedding I attended last month, both during the ceremony and after the reception. My continuous singing of it for weeks after the wedding elicited strange looks from my housemates, colleagues, fellow matatu passengers.... I really hope Gillian McNally considers including this in her wedding playlist!

Walking in Memphis

This song is played about 3 times a week on Classic 105 and the first time I heard it I was delighted. I texted my Dad straightaway to inform him that a song that we played over and over again on car journeys when I was about 6 was playing in Kenya. A few days later when it came on again I texted him again to tell him it was on again and that it was obviously a popular Kenya. After hearing this song approximiately 39 times in the past 4 months I have now stopped texting my Dad and have slowly begun to loathe the song. Thanks Classic 105, thanks a lot.

Lookie Lookie

Mostly the matatus here play cheese-tastic music from Classic 105 (see the above entry for evidence) or hardcore Swahili/Kenyan gangsta music, neither of which are exactly to my taste. But sometimes, just sometimes, they put on proper cool Kenyan music that the young people listen to. This song is pure class, part Swahili, part European dance tune, Stella Mwangi is a bit of a ledge-bag! For another example see this gem.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Two mzungus walk into a bar...

Nicole and I last week decided that we ought to go and watch some of the African Cup of Nations games before the tournament ended. I asked some of the guys from the MTV workshop to recommend good places to watch soccer in Nairobi and based on their advice we set off to K1 or Klubhouse as it is variously referred to. Soccer is the favourite sport in Kenya by far both in terms of numbers playing the game, and people who support and watch it. The Premiership is extremely popular, and most people you talk to here will be a supporter of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea etc but the Harambee Stars (as the Kenyan national team is nicknamed) are also well followed. Sadly, they didn't qualify for the Cup of Nations this year, nor did any team from East Africa except for Sudan.

When we arrived we were super impressed by the bar. Actually in reality it was 3 or 4 separate bars in an inter-connected complex with easily 30 TVs, including two enormous cinema sized screens. Fantastic, we thought, this is the perfect place to watch the barn-burner that was going to be the Gabon Mali AfCoN quarter-finals! It even had the Ireland Wales Six Nations game showing on a couple of the screens. I was delighted with myself. Yet, as it got closer to kick-off time none of the screens seemed to be showing the pre-game build up. They were instead showing the pre-match commentary for the Chelsea vs. Manchester United Premiership game. Reassured by my friend Arnold, that they would definitely switch some of the screens to the Gabon game, we asked a waitress in which section of the bar they would be putting on our match. The poor waitress seemed confused at first but then said she would put the Gabon game on in a corner for us, so as not to disturb the other customers! We duly followed her to the furthest reach of the bar, where she struggled for a few minutes to find our preferred match (buried on Super Sports 4).

No sooner had she found the African match and we'd watched 30 seconds when it switched over to the Six Nations. Apparently our TV was linked to some of the other TVs and she'd had a complaint from someone who was keen to watch the Ireland game! She set about isolating our telly and so 15 minutes into the game we finally got to watch Gabon vs Mali. And there we sat for the evening, two white girls watching an African Cup of Nations game

In the end it was not much of a spectacle, with Mali emerging the winners after a penalty shoot-out. And in reality, we did spend some of our time craning our necks to watch the six goals of the Chelsea/Man U game.

And that's how two mzungus ended up exiled in the corner of a Nairobi sports bar watching Gabon vs. Mali while the hundreds of other patrons of the bar watched Chelsea vs. Manchester United.