Kenya Journal 25-10-2009
I have just bought a Kenyan sim card for the equivalent of 50p.
Last night we had no electricity in our unit and the family are away, and so is the housegirl Anne who cooks for us, so it was just us four volunteers who had to fend for ourselves. There was no food in the fridge and we didn’t know how to prepare any of the food in the freezer. We ended up eating cornflakes outside on the step, as there was still a bit of light from the sun going down. We managed to light the kerosene lamp but at our first attempt Silvia was trying to light it with beef cubes as it was all we could find in the darkness! We watched the sun setting over our compound wall (which is beige stone topped with broken pieces of glass stuck into cement) and the view outside behind our compound is like one you see on the News of pictures of Iraq or Iran. Dust everywhere, beige stone, a purple sky, lines and lines of washing and wobbly TV ariels fixed precariously onto the roofs of the buildings.
Two guys came to try and fix our electricity because our host mother Priscilla called them to come and help us. We were sitting in the living room in the darkness, with absolutely nothing to do. There are millions – no, billions – of people in the world living like this all the time, without any electricity: without light, hot water, or any means of cooking anything using electricity. It really made us think. Fixing the electricity turned into quite a farce. Many, many things happen every day that are so absurd they are hilarious. The circuitry for the electricity in all the unit houses in our compound is fixed onto a wobbly piece of plywood. The electricity boxes are behind a locked cupboard, but the padlock and the large bolt can be pulled out of place so that you can access the boxes without having a key. This is clearly arranged like this for the very good reason that it is very unlikely that the person fixing a problem will be the one person with the key, and because people just try to make the best of things with whatever they can, as cheaply as possible. So it’s puzzling why anyone bothers with a cupboard at all. I held the kerosene lamp up while one of the men fiddled about with a screwdriver in the electric circuits. This guy knew what he was doing, but all he has to work with is one screwdriver. This protective casing for the electricity is as pointless as the seatbelts in the matatus – they have to have them by law, but that doesn’t mean that any of the belts work. As soon as you try to tighten them, they come open. Last night the electricity was eventually fixed, and we celebrated by watching our one set of DVDs. It is a US teen drama called Life as We Know It. It is quite awful, but we are all addicted. I found another cockcroach living in a hole in the bathroom wall. Sylvia has now given me a magnifying glass so I will be able to study the bugs of Africa when entertainment possibilities are running low. I will begin by observing the wildlife inside the house: the cockroaches and the ant colonies in the bathroom and living room. Ants are different here: they have very broad, large heads. There are fantastic birds here too; there are some bright blue birds with orange fronts living among the rubbish outside, and I have seen eagles and a huge very colourful stork flying in the air on the way to school.
When we left the house to come into town we had to lock up the house for the first time – normally Anne is always there, or one of is home from school or David is in. There is a bolt on the inside of the door, and a hatch on the outside, so you reach through the small hatch from the outside and bolt the door. Then there is a big (and temperamental) padlock to hook over a metal loop that is attached to the bolt, which has to be locked through the hatch and then the key removed. Unfortunately the hatch is only big enough for about one, or one and a half, hands. Yet it needs two to set the locks in place. It took us more than half an hour to contort our fingers into position and make it work. Sophie said “No wonder no-one ever gets anything done in Africa!”, and it’s true, even the most elementary things here take Forever! For instance the trip to school is about 15 minutes, but it takes an hour, because no-one has ever heard of a bus timetable, matatus just wait until they are full up with passengers, and then leave.
I’m going into school very early tomorrow to be introduced at the parade. Wishing everyone at home a wonderful Sunday afternoon!