Hello to all my friends and family!
I have to apologize for not keeping up with this whole blogging thing, but when you are in a place so different from home, it's hard not to get wrapped up in just observing simple things like the color of the dirt or the way people smile. :) I assure you I am doing a lot of smiling myself.
Where do I begin?!
The first few hours I was in Kenya we drove from the airport to Nairobi in Guy's mom's RAV4 which is a zippy little SUV that is perfect for traffic through Nairobi. There are very few laws which ensure safe driving, and my heart rate did go up a bit whenever we tried to "overtake a lorrie." Passing these medium sized trucks packed with chickens and people and loads of other stuff wasn't as exciting after we had done it a hundred times, but all the smoke and yelling and honking horns is still an exciting part of driving through town. We got to Guy's house with Mark (a friend from Santa Barbara visiting Guy) and Peadar (from Tanzania, and also a friend from SB). In the driveway, waiting for me to arrive, was a pair of giraffe which were perfectly silhouetted against a beautiful sunset and I cursed myself for putting my camera in the back of the car for the drive over. I thought there's no way I could see something that cool in the dark on the drive to Guy's house, but I was totally wrong! He laughed and said, "Cacey, you're here for months, you will see this about 100 times before you leave." I have to say he was right, and I haven't even been here for a week!
Tuesday morning we woke up for breakfast which is always promptly at 7:30am. We ate homemade cereal, fresh papaya, guava, mango, tangerine, and banana. I was already feeling spoiled when their maid came out of the kitchen and asked me how I would like my tea served to me in the morning. It's the best tea in the world on its own, but I decided to have it in a traditional Kenyan fashion with "two sugars and cream." The sugar is all raw sugar, and the milk tastes as though the cow is in the backyard (but its literally only down the road). Everything here is fresh and delicious. All the meals here are made from fresh ingredients and prepared only minutes before being consumed. I have never eaten such food in my life, nor have I been accustomed to leaving my plate at the table and not having to clean up after a meal. It's something quite frustrating because I love to help clean up and organize meals (as most of you know) and its hard to let other people do it, but here it is almost an insult to take away part of someone's job. Victoria and Margaret are two lovely Kenyan women who are employed by Guy's family and make a very fair wage, who make sure I have plenty to eat and drink, and pretty much do all the cleaning and what I would call "chores" around the house. This is general practice for most families in Kenya who make moderate salaries. It is a way of contributing to the community and providing jobs for people (unemployment is at about 65% I believe here). Anyone could clean up or cook for themselves, but it is better to be providing about six other families with income if you can afford to do so. I feel very spoiled, but am happy to see how things are managed here in one context.
We were off to visit the elephant orphanage after running a few errands and it was the coolest place ever! There were about 40 baby elephants, some only a few weeks old who we got to touch and interact with for about an hour at the cost of only about $3. I got plenty of photos and some video of the babies and had to be dragged out of there by Guy and Mark after they had their fill of getting mud splashed at them and dust blown in their faces by these playful animals. On our way out, I pet a rhinoceros and some wart-hogs. Wow, that was cool too! If anyone can tell me of a zoo or animal enclosure in the U.S. that lets visitors pet those animals, then let me know! :)
After that, we went to have tea at home with Guy's dad Jonah, then for a walk to a glass-blowing factory nearby. On the way there and back, Guy played ultimate Survivorman and showed Mark and I his knowledge of not only animal tracks and scat, but also every plant and animal on the way. He is literally like the people you see on TV who know what you can eat, what will make you sick, how the animals all co-exist, everything! We even tracked a pack of lions as they must have been on the same road only the night before! How cool is that?! The other awesome part about Kenya is that everyone knows all these things about the land and the animals. They are all so in tune to their environment and what's going on around them that I feel like I have really been missing out on learning the indigenous and exotic species of things in California. We have such a beautiful state, and I wish I knew so much about it as these Kenyans know about their homes. I might not get all the scientific names down, but if I could tell you what the names are of all the plants and animals in my own backyard I'd be pretty proud of myself.
Dinner is always at 7:30 pm, and we always talk about politics and what the next day will bring. When I say "we" talk about politics, I mean I sit there and am completely silent during the whole meal while everyone else discusses the future of Africa. I know nothing about what they talk about, but am catching on fairly quickly. I know now that there is a "very definitive moment" approaching as we are a week away from the people of Kenya voting for a Constitution. There are problems with voting both 'yes' and 'no,' and everyone seems to have their own opinion about it, but the community here is incredible in how they communicate these things with one another. They are all loyal to their communities, and are seriously involved in politics because unlike in the U.S., there is little or no continuity between parties here. If a different party is voted in, an entire community of people can be kicked out, ostracized, forced to close their businesses, or even killed in extreme cases. If voting for Republicans or Democrats meant something that extreme, I guarantee we would all be talking about it over dinner!
Beyond the political talk and the memorizing scientific names of indigenous plants and animals, eating wonderful meals, everyday here seems to be perfect but that is just one side of life in Kenya. There are a lot of sick people, a lot of homeless and jobless people. There is social unrest and death, and I have gotten a taste of this as well.
Guy's house is monitored by two men everyday, each of them wielding weapons of some sort to protect the house from thieves, wanderers, and animals who might cause trouble. Each member of the neighborhood has a walkie talkie which is turned on when it gets dark so they can communicate if any danger is in the area. People at the banks are locked into the booths so no one can get in or out until the transaction is completed safely. There always people walking on the sides of the road who need help or shelter. It is heartbreaking, but being with Guy has given me a very interesting perspective on the whole thing because he grew up in the center of all of this. The people here like his family do what they can whenever they can to help, but they have a much different view on how this should be done. They are all part of a million different charity and community support efforts, they volunteer countless hours of their time to organizations, they buy only local foods and brands, they will spend extra money to support positive businesses within their community, and I am so happy to be a small part of that.
I have been given the opportunity to help out just a bit with some young men who are starting an ornament business by making handmade beaded Christmas ornaments to sell locally. These would easily sell for about $15-$50 dollars in the U.S. and are being made to support these guys because their parents can't afford to send them to school anymore, but they make only about $3 each on them and hope that between them they have enough to buy food. I have been working with them on marketing to tourists and selling them for a price that will generate enough income to expand and support a better life. I didn't think my little experience with business would be of any good here, but in Africa, any skills you have are utilized and taken advantage of. I am happy to help in any way I can.
Overall life is completely different here. Guy keeps apologizing for spending hours fixing his car or having to drive around town to run errands, but the truth is that I am a fascinated observer of life. The oxidized dirt alone could keep me busy for hours! I look for new flowers to take pictures of, track ants with bodies the size of buttons, go for walks trying to find the leopard that's in Guy's backyard, (yes, there's a radio-collared leopard that is hiding somewhere around Guy's house-so cool!) observe the characters that rip off tourists in the local "mall," laugh to myself as zebra and giraffe walk through the backdrop of the scenery during lunch, and generally soak up all the new stimuli of this beautiful country.
If it sounds overwhelming, fascinating, and amazing...it is! There are no dull moments, and while I am very safe and well taken care of, there is an amount of discomfort I feel because of how different it is here (which is probably also working to keep me safe). I am so thankful to be able to experience a small amount of this life here, and appreciate all the people who are making sure my days are rich and interesting. The people are warm and inviting, and I can't wait to see and experience more. Africa is nothing like what we see on CNN, and I will be happy to blog so long as everyone knows that even my story isn't the full story because you can't summarize the beauty and tragedy of this place. It's something you have to experience, but I hope I can at least articulate a fraction of it with truth and fairness.
I am having the time of my life, and this summer will be more interesting than I could have hoped. I am thinking about all of you at home (especially a certain someone who is counting down the days to meeting her already incredibly-loved bundle of joy!) and wishing you could all be here with me. I love you! Email me at Caceyjade17@aol.com if you have specific questions or want to let me know what's going on in your lives (yes please!).