Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is that a rock or a lion? If it’s a lion, who do we sacrifice first?

A lot has happened in the past few days. On Friday, the organization I’m interning at (Kituo cha Sheria) threw a party to celebrate the big win (thanks to the legal aid team at Kituo, Kenyan prisoners can now vote in the upcoming referendum). There was a staff meeting, followed by three hours of singing, followed by roast goat in a bucket (yes, literally, a roasted goat chopped up into pieces was passed around in a plastic bucket), followed by alcohol. I actually had to leave early and didn’t get to the alcohol part, but I still had a jolly good time. Jamie, Consuelo and I met up back at the guesthouse and then went to an art show put together by Charles DeSantis. Charles is the Vice President of Benefits at Georgetown University and comes to Kenya each summer to teach an art program for high school kids in Kibera—the second largest slum in Africa. (You can check out his website here: http://artinkibera2010.blogspot.com/). When we got to the venue, the power was out, so Charles gave us a tour of the gallery by candlelight. The work the students had done was beautiful. I took a photo of one drawing I thought was really amazing.

Saturday we woke up early. The other muzungu intern at Kituo, Aaron aka ‘Harvard Law,’ really wanted to get out of the city for the weekend, so we decided to head north to Lake Nivasha. There were five of us total: me, Aaron, Jamie, Consuelo, and Bethuel (another intern at Kituo). Originally, we were going to rent a car and drive up ourselves (and here I mean we were going to make Bethuel drive, since none of the rest of us know how to drive on the left side of the road), but after waiting two hours for the rental guy to drop off the car, we decided to just go to town and take a matatu (taxi van).

The Kenyan countryside is beautiful! Despite sitting in the uncomfortable matatu and hitting my head on the ceiling at every bump in the road, it was still an enjoyable car ride. We arrived in Nivasha town and got a taxi to take us to the lake. We rented rooms at the YMCA and set off in search of lunch. After walking down a dirt road for what seemed like ages, we finally stumbled upon the Simba Club. It was actually a really nice place for being in the middle of nowhere—they even had a pool table! By the time we had finished lunch, it was already 4:00, but we really wanted to see the lake, so we walked to a place called Crayfish Camp to see if they had beach access. They did! We walked down a long paved road towards the lake to find a small boy herding an enormous flock of sheep near the edge of the water. And past him was a jetty with a man and a boat at the end. So pleasantly, and unexpectedly, we got to go on a boat ride. We saw lots of birds, and about ten hippos. Consuelo was freaking out the whole time about the hippos, but we survived. Only once did a hippo submerge itself and make an underwater run for our boat. But, we escaped and rode off into the sunset—literally.

We ended up ordering dinner and watching the Ghana vs. US game at Crayfish Camp. They showed the game on a huge projector screen outside—it would have been awesome had the US won, and had the three Americans not been surrounded by about 50 Kenyans and one Venezuelan who were delighted with the Ghana win.

On Sunday, we hopped on our YMCA rented mountain bikes at 7AM and rode into Hell’s Gate National Park. The following is an excerpt from the Lonely Planet guide on Hell’s Gate: “Looking at animals from the safety of your car seat is all well and good, but let’s be honest – after a while who doesn’t get the urge to get out of the vehicle and re-enter the food chain?” We didn’t see any big cats, but we did see a ton of zebra and warthog. At the far end of the park, we dismounted and took a hike down into Hell’s Gate Gorge. I’ve never been on such a cool hike in my life. It’s a good thing we had a guide… we were climbing up and down steep rocks and through streams, and several times, our guide had to physically carry us to safety. He looked like he weighed maybe 120 pounds, but he must have been tough because he killed a lion with a spear when he was 15. Yup. He was from the Maasi tribe, and to “become a man” and to be accepted as an adult in the community, you have to kill a lion. To “become a woman,” you’re supposed to undergo circumcision. I think I’d much rather kill a lion.

Riding back through the park after our intense hike was not pleasant. (The original sentence I had written here was much more accurate, but Jamie made me change it to something more polite). It was mostly uphill, and very hot, the bike seats were not well padded, and I only had one gear switch that worked. But we made it without being eaten by lions, or being chased by a rhino, and safety is all that matters right?

We hitched a matatu ride back to Nivasha town, which was an interesting experience in itself. When the mat stopped to pick us up, there was only one available seat, but we all managed to squeeze on anyway. I was sitting in between two seats in the back on the floor with Aaron on my knee, and Bethuel on his knee. Jamie was sitting in the second row with a kid on her lap, and Consuelo was sitting up in the first row smushed against the driver and two or three other people. During all of this, I am acutely aware of the fact that my back is exposed because my shirt is stuck on something, but I can’t pull it down because I can’t move my arms as they are trapped between the two seats on either side of me. So for twenty minutes I’m thinking that these four guys in the back row behind me are probably having a great time staring at my foreign, pasty-white skin. Even though I couldn’t move my body at all, at least I was able to watch the Ugandan music videos on the TV screen behind the driver’s headrest.

We eventually made it back to Nairobi. As soon as the bus dropped us off, it spit a plume of black smoke right into my face. Consuelo thought it was hilarious.

Overall, it was a great weekend. Next weekend though, we may take it easy… we’re so exhausted and don’t know when we’ll be able to catch up on our sleep.

Today was another busy day. We went to the Refugee Consortium of Kenya in the morning and then met with Abdi Rashid, one of the men who helped write the Proposed Constitution of Kenya (to be voted on on August 4th - this is what prisoners can now vote on). After our meeting, he took us to meet with Hassan Omer Hassan, a Commissioner at the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights.

Anyway, I’ve written too much. Hope everyone is enjoying the summer!

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