Dispatch 15: The simple lifeby kenya on May. 16, 2010, under Life
- St. Gregory senior Arielle Greene with Mrs. Githaiga
May 14, 2010
By Arielle Greene
I always see something new each day on my way to school. Today it was a motorbike with four riders. The other day it was cattle being herded along by an elderly Kenyan. The cattle were wet and smelled like chemicals. I asked the man what it was and he explained that he had taken them through the cattle dip. This is a deep, narrow trough of water with insecticides mixed in. The cattle jump in the deep end and are submerged up to their necks, then they walk out at the shallow end. This keeps harmful bugs like ticks and mites off of the animals.
Unlike my walks to school, the conversations I have with my fellow Kenyan teachers are always the same. It goes something like this. “How is Kenya to you? How is America? Do you think I can go to America with you?”. These questions start my daily conversations with the teachers at Irigithathi. Frequently it ends there, with short answers to the first two questions and to the third, my reply that anyone can go to America if put your mind to it. Sometimes, though, the questions are deep and contain an abundance of hope and thought. These are the ones to which I really like to respond, and this often leads to much more meaningful discussions.
One of my fellow teachers is Mrs. Kabui, pronounced “Ka-F-way” because the Kikuyu pronunciation of “b” sounds like an “f”, (“Fafa” for father instead of “Baba”). In any case, Ms. Kabui told me that she has a friend who has moved from Kenya to America. She hopes to visit her friend one day, as her friend suggested just before departing. She realizes that she could not just wake up one day and pack up her daughter, son, and husband and go to America, but that it would take a lot of planning and a lot of money. She believes, as do most Kenyans, that getting to America is the big expense and then they will be OK. America is the richest and most powerful country in the world, surely there is work for a Kenyan there. I don’t think she realizes that even with a job it is very expensive to live in the United States. She won’t be able to buy an avocado the size of my cat for 10 shillings, but instead she will have to deal with the egg-sized ones for $3.00. I am struck by the realization that money is everything in America. It runs the society; it puts clothes on our backs and cars on the roads, and gives us opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have.
Coming to Kenya is very different because I am finding that you do not need a lot of fancy things to get on in life. I look at all the stuff I carry in my backpack and am sure that none of the teachers have the same. I ask myself if I really need all this stuff? And does it need to be high tech or the latest and greatest of the next fashion craze? The teachers all dress professionally, not flashily. Their shoes are well-worn and functional. There is a simplicity about it which is refreshing. Note to self: keep this in mind the next time I go shopping for new clothes.
Mrs. Githaiga is such a gentile soul. Her hair is done to a T, and she is always wearing a nice suit and wrapped in a plain shawl each morning to fend off the chill. She asks the same questions everyday wondering whether I have remembered more about America. She wonders what it is like to live in Tucson and in the desert. She asks where my shamba (farm) is and if I have cows. “Do you and Cait live in the same village and use the same shamba?” My reply was that we live in the same village but that we don’t have shambas. She wonders why we don’t have any cows, goats, sheep, or chickens. I tell her that we go to the grocery store for these things, as well as all of our food. The look on her face is a mixture of confusion and wonder. I could see her trying to figure out the concept of not having a cow and going somewhere to buy meat rather than the butcher shop down the road. Some things are really hard to explain, so I don’t even try. I just say that some things in Kenya and in America are very different, and some things are the same.
Living in rural Kenya the last two weeks and having my daily conversations with the teachers has given me a different perspective on how much of the world lives. It is common for students to go without shoes here, and they couldn’t care less. I don’t think any of the teachers have wardrobes full of clothing, first because it would be too expensive and secondly because they don’t need it. Function over fashion. I’m not planning on going home and purging my home of my material goods, but it will give me reason to think twice about some of the things I purchase and some of my priorities. One thing that I am sure of with the many friendly Kenyans I have met thus far, money can’t buy happiness and here in Kenya it it is found in abundance.