Saturday, November 15, 2008

Random Thoughts on a Quiet Week

This week has been quiet. Kate is in NY for a Gates Foundation meeting, Tsione and Erik are in Madagascar and I’ve been holding down the fort at the office. It’s been nice, but a little too quiet, and I’ve been able to get some of my specific deliverables and non-time critical work completed. I haven’t done anything particularly exciting, so here are some observations:
  • Kenyan driving. I’ve mentioned before how awful drivers are here. Now I know why. A friend who will be living here for the next 3 years just got her driver’s license. She could have gotten an international license in the US, had someone like Alex the Cab Driver, a “fixer” purchase a license for her, or go to the registry and take a test. She decided to try the test route first. The exam consisted of “driving” a Matchbox car along a game board painted with road patterns and a drive down the road for less then 1/10th of a mile. Buying a car is an experience as well. License plates stay with the car, not the owner, and they are numbered in a way that you can determine the year the car was brought into the country. Tires are extremely expensive here and roads are awful, so it’s one of the things you need to make sure are in good shape. The same friend just rented a house and took me to see it before she moves in. It is in a lovely neighborhood and is a beautiful home. The main house has 3 bedrooms, each with a full bath, a living room, dining room, a very large kitchen and tons of storage space. The guest house is two more bedrooms, bath and small kitchen. There’s also a servant’s quarters, a gardener and two large turtles that come with the house. All for $1,100 a month.

  • Laundry is a big issue here. Most local Kenyans do laundry by hand. I can look out the office window and watch the housekeepers wash and hang enormous amounts of laundry every day. I am very spoiled in that not only does my apartment complex have washers and dryers, but I also have a housekeeper who does my laundry for me. Not all my colleagues are as lucky, and my apartment has become the central point to do their wash. It’s not without its challenges, though. One night, Erik the Intern got “caught” doing laundry by the complex’s caretaker who did not take kindly to outsiders using the facilities. We’ll just have to be more clandestine about it in the future.

  • And speaking of housekeepers, regardless of your station in life here, there is someone lower than you. I was surprised to learn that our administrative assistant, has a housekeeper/child care person. Then, I was even more surprised to learn that the women I watch do laundry in the apartments next to the office are housekeepers, not the residents. Finally, I was stunned to learn that even people who live in Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa with 850,00 unofficial residents paying about $14/month for “rent” of what could barely be considered walls and a roof often pay someone to handle their domestic chores. Go figure.

  • Last Sunday, I went to the nearby mall that was hosting a craft fair sponsored by the American Women’s Association (AWA) - a social/charitable organization open to women from the Americas. When I first arrived here, I contacted them via their website to join. Never heard a peep. So, when I saw that they were sponsoring a craft bazaar, I thought I’d stop by and follow up. After checking out all the booths, I stopped by the membership table and explained that I was interested in joining, but no one had ever contacted me. The woman at the desk apologized, made up some excuse about a new membership director, falling through the cracks, etc. and invited me to their next meeting the following Tuesday morning. I said that I wouldn’t be able to make it as I worked and my days were otherwise occupied. The woman scrunched up her face and explained that all their meetings were held during the day. According to her, their membership won’t go out at night because it’s too dangerous. I said that it then precluded anyone who held a job and she said haughtily, “Yes, I suppose it does. Perhaps this isn’t the right organization for you.” As I was walking out, I stopped by a booth and chatted with the woman behind the counter. She asked if I was an AWA member to which I said no. She said she wasn’t either as she was Pilipino, but at least I could join if I wanted to, since I was American. I told her they didn’t want me either and she got a good laugh out of that.

  • Nairobi is growing. Construction of commercial and residental building is everywhere. This is the view from the top of my apartment building. The Sarit Center mall is the white building on the left. Notice the cranes - this the scene all over the city.

  • It’s still raining. Although it mostly happens at night, it’s torrential and leaves the roads flooded and muddy. Here’s my street looking north and south on a dry day.

  • Christmas is coming. The malls are already decorated with trees, wreaths and there are local musical groups singing in the courtyard.


Greg said...

Cool ramblings. interesting that everyone there has a housekeeper. I need to get Anne to agree to this

Denise said...

You have learned so much since being there and I am thrilled you share it with us all. We really miss you, stay dry and keep blogging.

Margaret said...

Like the musings...

So you know it's not just in Kenya that working women are not wanted by the American Women's Association. I ran into the same thing during my stint in Switzerland years ago. :-(

Thanks for sharing!

Susan said...

Dear Landlord,

How come my cottage does not include servant's quarters and two large turtles?

Just wondering,
Your tenant