Monday, 31 October 2011

Beauty and the Bees: Trip to Masai Land

Quincy has been embarking on some wonderful new adventures here in the Motherland but like I said...this is not that blog:). Once a week he teaches beekeeping in a Masai community in the Rift Valley for an organization called MIDI. I went along mainly as the photographer but also because every time I travel to the Rift Valley a sense of calm envelopes me as if every part of my being agrees with me standing in this place.  I feel as if I have come home. So in between job searches and  continuous writing work from home, we jumped into the car to meet the friends who would take us to the Masai Comminuty.

An hour later we were traveling on a dirt path of loose, bumpy rocks with steep hills and narrow turns. Once in a while (6 of us in total)  we would need to jump out of the car to help to push it over the rocks. I was beginning to feel that eye shadow and sandals were not a necessary part of this adventure and hoped that my organic deodorant would hold up for the entire day.

When we finally arrived, covered in dust and quite shaken up from the bumpy voyage, we were greeted by Mat, the coordinator for MIDI in this area and several Masai people. We first had tea (Thank you British Empire. Nothing like tea on a hot day in a village), talked about the day, what Quincy would be doing, and then began the beekeeping course. By this time we were all dripping with sweat as the tea was hot and so was the air.

Soon many Masai people began to gather where Quincy was speaking. By way of a translator he taught the basics of beekeeping and explained how it is important not to cut down the trees so that the bees will have sufficient nectar sources. Many of the Masai people began to laugh saying, "This man thinks that we are going to be beekeepers?" I asked Amos, who had been translating for Quincy, what they were saying then said to him, "Please tell the people that they already know how to take care of animals so beekeeping will be easy for them. Quincy taught a bunch of people back home in Bermuda how to do beekeeping and they did not even know how to take care of animals such as you guys do. You can do it." Amos gasped and said, "They don't even know how to take care of goats and cows? Ha! Then we can do beekeeping!"

 He relayed the message in Masai to everyone as more laughter erupted at the thought of a group of people who don't even know how to take care of animals." At this point more people became interested and some went home. Pretty soon those who were interested were bringing out more beehives and frames, sharing honeycomb and asking questions.

While we watched the beekeeping in motion, the Masai women began to ask Amos if I was black, to which I replied, "Of course I'm black". The reply was, "Then why do you not speak any African languages?" Sadness came over me as I recalled the story of Bermuda's slavery in about 2 minutes (the fast version). "Oh we see! You used to be black but now you're white!"  I actually told them that over 400 years ago we were Africans but now we are not Africans which translates to the previous sensence in Masai.

In the midst of trying to figure out my race and the confusion with why I don't speak any African languages, the Masai women began to hold my had and we exchanged bracelets. We asked each other about our families (Joyce in the picture has 9 children) and smiled at each other. As we stood watching the continuation of the beekeeping class from a distance we remained holding hands. They told me that I looked like their family then decided that I look like a Moran (another Masai group who paint their hair with red dye). After the class was over, Quincy planted a bunch of mango trees and we ate lunch. Yummy beef stew with potatoes, onions and tomoatoes.

On the way home we saw several gazelle and had to jump out of the car several times to push it over the rocks-again. Ahh, back to Nairobi, where the potholes suddenly didn't seem as bothersome...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Coastal Simplicities

We just arrived back form the coast this past week. I was unable to post while there due to the fact that the interenet was so intermittent. So here I am mulling over ideas in my head...which experience to write about and how much of my person do I share? There is not enough space here for me to peel of every surface of the onion but perhaps a glimps will reveal new beauty that suffices. for  Mull with me as I type as white space becomes lines and curves that will make literary beauty appear for the eyes to see and the mind's ear to hear...

After 10 weary hours of driving we arrived. The actual drive is about 6 hours long but getting out of Nairobi and into Mombasa are two hours each. The morning after the drive was sureal as I peered up into a tree of about a dozen monkeys looking at me as if I were a new species that seemed interesting to behold. We exchanged looks for a while, tiled our heads at each other in questionment, jilted in a split second thought of fear and then parted our separate ways. I threw a piece of passion fruit towards one of them. One monkey ran past carrying a smaller money. The locals said that the mother needed to wean it as it was almost as big as the mother. I thought about all of the theories to do with attachment and thought that this mother had just disproven all of them. I giggle to myself and then look about but there is no one around to share the joke with except for these peering creatures.

Later as I walk on the beach I miss the path for the guest house where we are staying. I walk and walk until I come to the end of the beach. There are Italians and Kenyans playing football together on the sand. Even a couple of Masai men dressed in their beautiful, traditional garb and adorned with lots of beautiful earings, and bracelets are playing. Such a site to see. I don't think I will ever get used to seeing the majestic look of a Massai person. At the market Quincy is being scolded by a woman selling her wares for not teaching his children to speak Kswahili; "You're a Kenyan and you don't bother to teach your children anything but English??"

Days later we are driving home, back to Nairobi. We stop for some goat foot and ugali and and continue on our way. While looking out the window watching for ostriches and babboons we notice 8 armoured trucks headed to the border. While we were running in the sand and looking at turtles Kenya had changed ever so slightly. I wondered how these experiences, simple yet unknowingly profound had changed me...only time would tell...

"When we go through profound experiences, they change us. We risk our relationships with friends and family. They may not like the direction we have taken or may feel threatened or judged by our decisions. They may wonder what happened to the person they thought they once knew." - Wangari Maathai

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Burgess' Kids Adventures

Over the past 4 weeks one of the joys of being here has been listening to and observing our children as they get used to a new country and culture. Some of the things that they say daily give me a belly laugh and other comments cause me to consider my own journey and thoughts. Join me in sharing in these joys through my children's eyes. Enjoy!

“Kenya has the same type of bananas as Bermuda.”-5 year old

“Today I met a friend from Germany and a friend from Mombasa. I told them that in Bermuda, fishing is serious business!” – 4 year old

“Mommy today I saw some Africans!” – 4 year old

“Mommy I like this place cause people carry bags on their head. When I grow up I want to carry a bag on my head. Look I have a sock on my head now!” -4 year old

“Mommy if we’re in Africa, where are the lions?” – 4 year old

“Today we went on a field trip and the baboons stole our napkins.” – 5 year old

“My favorite part of today was playing football.” – 5 year old

“I like my bunnies. They are all my friends.” -4 year old

“Can we invite some of our friends from Bermuda over for a play date?” – 4 year old

“Mommy, how do people understand each other when they speak in Kiswahili?” – 5 year old

“Mommy, can we get an ostrich so that it can be friends with our goat?” -4 year old

Pikipiki, Pikipiki, Pikipiki….., Sawa! Sawa! Pole! Pole! Pole! Pole! Scuma wiki! Scuma wiki! Scuma wiki!” 4 and 5 year old rambling off Kswahili words that they just learned and or find hilarious.  

The translation would go as follows: “Motorbike, Motorbike, Motorbike…, Cool! Cool!  Slowly! Slowly! Spinach! Spinach! Spinach!”

Thanks for following our adventures!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

School Clothes: The Adventure

We arrived in Nairobi on September 2 only a few days before the start of school. While still feeling like a zombie in a dream cloud rather than an excited child of the Diaspora returning to the motherland, we began settling into new life here. The next day it was time to buy food, but I was too tired to make good judgments on what to buy and trying to decide which commodities would be similar in quality than what I was used to buy while jet lagged meant observation was futile. Finally, we came to the outlet where we would purchase school uniforms for the children.

From a distance I could see a long, standing, line of eager parents and children waiting to get into the store. Like a true Ball I walked to the front of the line and handed my list of school uniform specifities to one of the tailors. "Oh no, you cannot come in until you are called," he said with both hands cupped forward in my direction. He motioned to the back of the line as I turned around with the children, grimly anticipating my fate. After about an hour and a half wait we were again standing in front of the entrance.

On the inside I was jumping excitedly as I clenched my uniform list. Without it we would surely disappear in the seeming confusion that waited in front of us. To a westerner, even for a loosely, artistic person like myself, priding myself on rarely matching my socks and operating under a system of disorganized organization, what lay before my eyes looked chaotic and stressful.

...another 15 minutes wait at the entrance and we were called into the store. Inside, a friendly tailor with measuring tape draped around his neck motioned for us to come in. He began as most Kenyans do, speaking to me in Kiswahili, experiencing a moment of confusion and then figuring out that I am a muzungu (a foreigner. Usually attributed to white people). After we talked about my birth location and to which tribal group he assumed that I belonged, we began the process of school uniform acquisition!

Although I saw this as a sort of non-process in need of a bit of organizational management change, the tailor was well versed in this system of school uniform search. It went something like this; I would call out the first item on the list and he would disappear into the mass confusion and appear with the item that I requested. Between the time that I asked for the item and when he returned was about 15 minutes. On several occasions we needed a larger or smaller size. At the recognition of this he would disappear again and emerge with another size: another 15 minutes gone by.

In the meantime the children were playing with the fallen clothes and school accessories and "climbing over the mountain." One is doing the pee-pee dance and both are crying for snacks: blood pressure rising. In the midst of all of this the desire to show my "muzunguness" became overwhelming. I decided to "fix" this situation. "Sir it would be so much easier if I simply handed you the list of uniform paraphernalia and you could simply bring it all back at once." "Oh no!" he said to me as if I had just asked him to go to the moon, "That's not the system. You will continue to ask me each item on the list and I will get it"...15 minutes passes. "Sir, I have 2 children. Can you at least get the socks when you get the gym shirt?" I shout out as he walks away. He obliges and purses his lips together, slightly irritated but still polite as ever and disappears behind the clothes for another 15 minutes.

There I was being a muzungu again. Judging another culture by my own cultural standards and trying to impose a different system after being in the country for only 72 hours. The truth is, this system has probably worked this way for a long time and after I leave it will continue. I leaned up against the counter still clenching my list, now wrinkled and tried to appreciate the value of experiencing a different method of accomplishing a task. If I really couldn't handle it I could just "Go home." At least that's what we as Bermudians suggest to well-meaning expatriates who move to our island and do the same. The counter response to this suggestion is to be called a xenophobe, those who are contributing to the financial demise of our island by chasing helpful foreigners with large money bags away. I imagined a group of gnome-like creatures running wildly across the map to the Cayman Island or elsewhere, away from angry looking natives.

Pain in my fingers from clenching the uniform list for 2 hours brings me back to my present reality. We have now begun the search for clothes for my younger son. Now I must closely guard the stack of school uniform stuffs for the 5 year old. It would be a travesty to lose one item in the shuffle and need to recover yet another item.

Finally, after 3 1/2 hours in total the tailor added up the cost of all of the items without a calculator. I on the other hand; blackberry in hand, was adding up the items along with him [although he finished before I did]. After paying for the school uniforms and gym clothes, we left the store and waved to the long line of eager parents also clenching uniform lists. It was now almost 6pm. Monday morning the boys got ready for school and looked cute as ever. One month later, the 5 year old misplaces his blazer at school…

Saturday, 1 October 2011

On Tribalism and the old boyfriend

Since we've been here most people have decided to place me into a tribal group upon meeting me. I am usually mistaken for a kikuyu (largest tribal group in Kenya and typically comprises most of Kenya's government) or a Tita (a tribe from the coast, usually lighter in complexion). I realize the purpose for this continuous categorization and enjoy the fun of it all. We as humans are inclined to classify people according to our own empirical paradigm. This helps us not to feel suspicious of others. Once someone acts outside if the parameters that we have created for them great strides must be made for mental reclassification of the individual under the magnifying glass. The effect is a neo-tribal society where the tribes are known as country clubs, churches, lodges, socioeconomic status, and the like.

While living here I think back to the days when first moved to Jerusalem. Part of the difficulty that we experienced living there several years ago was that our neighbors and other Israelis who we met on the street could not classify us according to their paradigm so the automatic response was to be wary of us."Ok so let me get this straight, you are from Bermuda which is next to the US but you're not American....but you hold a British passport and you look African/Cuban... but we are speaking to each other in Hebrew now....and why did you say you wanted to come here again??" This was the usual course of conversation for at least the first year. Once they started to believe that we were not spies or even worse, missionaries, some very dear friendships began to form.

Back to Kenya where I have been adopted by a very dear Kenyan family as their kikuyu daughter (as they call me), we were eating dinner, talking Kenyan politics (my third favorite conversation after sex and education), I suddenly began to feel a huge sense of loss-like I missed I had just broken up with my boyfriend. As the conversation about Kenyan politics began to fade into the distance I saw the one that my heart was pounding for. He was 21 square miles long and shaped like a fish hook. Now before any of you women get excited you should know that I am talking about my homeland.  For those of you who know me you have heard me express often about how Bermuda is too small to contain my dreams and ideas and from the moment that I touch its shores you know that I am mapping out how I can escape from the invisible, monotonous chains that lay claim to the soul that dares to try to make a small difference in her sphere. I sang this song for over 20 years of my life until a few, just a few of my dreams were realized when my book, "The Lizard & the Rock" became a Bermuda sensation and the unique and beautiful snowballing effects that followed.

As the conversation about politics and the state of the economy became louder and louder in my ear I realized that this new location, with its ethno and neo tribalism, was inviting me to get to know it, with all of its goodness and faults while the old boyfriend was fading into the salty shadows-for a while. And in the midst of Kenyan food, great fun and my newly classified tribe, I had to admit that I miss the old boyfriend, Bermuda but I am ready to embrace newness.