Sunday, April 22, 2007

Kenya: Karibu Kisumu!

(photo above: sunset over Lake Victoria as seen from the Pabari cottage in Kisumu)

I had a very typical foreigner-in-Kenya entrance to Kenya: By the time I had stepped out from customs onto the arrivals platform, I was assaulted by a huge swarm of touts trying to get me to take their unauthorized taxis and to go on under-the-table safaris. No peace for the travel-weary. I couldn’t even get to the ATM machine without a horde of people following me and talking at me incessantly. Luckily, I had been in Kenya once before and knew about the authorized taxis waiting out in a designated area. It just took me a while to break through the barrier of unauthorized drivers trying to get me to pay for an illegal ride.

My taxi driver, Francis, was a very interesting young man. In addition to driving his (licensed) taxi, he works for a Kenyan pharmaceutical company which was apparently doing trials on an HIV immune modulator. He spoke about wanting to go back to school in order to go to medical school and eventually become a doctor.

I then embarked on another very Kenyan experience (though middle-class Kenyan, as it was quite safe): a hot, dirty, bumpy nine-hour Easy Coach ride from Nairobi to Kisumu on very broken roads. It felt a little crazy doing this after an eight-hour overnight flight from London. The bus was packed to the brim, but luckily not overpacked and luckily I sat next to only one very lovely person (as opposed to a mother carrying two children, etc.). Caren was returning home to a rural town next to Kisumu after visiting her daughters and new grandson in Nairobi. Caren is a primary school teacher and has a fascinating family. In particular, her sister Eugenia was recruited by the Chinese acrobat school when she was 11 years old, back in the 1970s. She then lived, trained and performed Chinese acrobatics for six years afterwards. According to Caren, she was no longer very athletic after having several children. Eugenia now works for Kenya Air’s Chinese department; i.e. she books and arranges flights in Africa for Chinese folks. Caren was so excited to learn that I speak Mandarin that she used her last cell phone minutes to call her sister up and have us conversate. Eugenia’s Mandarin was impeccable. She spoke with all the right intonations, even after all these years. She had Chinese vocabulary that I could only guess at. I imagined a plump, dark-skinned Kenyan woman speaking in perfect Mandarin on the cell phone with me.

I arrived in Kenyan time at the Kisumu Easy Coach terminal: two hours late. I had scared Vero, our wonderful Kisumu-based UCSF/UBC liaison, earlier when I didn’t call her till I reached Nakuru. She was afraid that something would happen to the lone foreign female traveling by bus from Nairobi. I tried to call her earlier, but there was simply no phone to be safely found in Nairobi before we departed. Plus I was still carrying that insane load of luggage by myself. She was quite worried about me, so she and Liz waited at the Easy Coach station starting at 5 pm, when I was supposed to arrive, till nearly 7 pm, when I actually arrived.

Happily Vero and Liz helped me with my luggage into the clinic van, and drove me straight to the cottage that I am staying at for the next five weeks. It’s gorgeous. It’s tropical. It’s perfect. The woman who runs the cottage compound, Mrs. Pabari is a Turkish landscape designer. You can tell. She has an immaculately maintained tropical garden with plentiful flower and vegetable patches, koi ponds, frog ponds and a naturally heated lap pool. Not only am I in this lush natural setting, I also have a home with hot water, plumbing that works, electricity, and –get this- speedy internet access with an ethernet connection.

The only thing tough about this place is 1) the bugs, including mosquitoes and 2) the immense racket that the nighttime animals make. The random outbreaks of hornbills, bullfrogs, dog barks and howling contests keep this jet-lagged insomniac wide awake at night.

What’s gross? Ants one-inch long invading your home.

What’s grosser than gross? Killing a large ant and finding a swarm of smaller ants eating and liquefying its body within 5 minutes.

1 comment:

young whan said...

what's cool? sophy talking to a kenya woman in mandarin.

what's cooler than cool? the woman trained as a chinese acrobat!!!

i love it...