Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Eastleigh

So my hair has been getting pretty long as of late. The ends are split and I look like a male lion. Because I didn’t bring a blow-dryer or a straightener here, I usually just get out the shower, gel it, and let it dry naturally (which can take up to six hours). I’m already self-conscious about it (I prefer wearing it straight), but when I left home I figured, Sarah, you’re going to Africa, no one cares what your hair looks like… you stick out anyway, so who really cares? This morning, Jiro (one of my favorite people in the office, a man of about 40 who insists on talking to me in slang Swahili even though he knows I have no idea what he’s saying) walked by my desk, laughed, and said something to me. As usual, I asked Bethuel for a translation. The response was: “He says you need to comb your hair.” I almost started crying right then and there. Don’t men know that women can’t take criticism! Now I’m wondering if I should have thought: Sarah, you stick out anyway, so you might as well look good. Ah well, next time I come to Kenya, I’ll know to bring my fancy handbag, high heels, jewelry (a big thanks to all those dope websites who told me not to bring jewelry), and a hairbrush. Maybe I should just get braids…

In other news, I went to Eastleigh for the first time on Monday and loved it! Eastleigh is the part of Nairobi where most of the refugees we interview at RCK live. It was so different from the part of Nairobi we live in. Such an interesting blend of cultures. The Ethiopian and Somali communities congregate in Eastleigh so there’s a big Muslim influence. The majority of the women I spotted were covered head to toe in dark blue or black, loose-fitting fabric. The ones in all black with only their eyes showing reminded me of the dementors from Harry Potter – minus the whole kiss of death thing. No gated, guarded houses and apartments here. Instead, the roads are riddled with potholes, and there are lots and lots of shops! Not like Georgetown shops though… open stores filled to the brim with skirts, purses, shoes, and anything else you might want to buy for a bargain. It’s difficult to describe why exactly I loved it so much… I think it was because the atmosphere was so new and exciting. At one point, I felt like I was in the movie the “5th Element.” Maybe it was the crowded mass of alien people portraying a mix of colors and smells – though I guess I can’t really associate the “5th Element” with a smell since it’s a movie… hmm. TouchĂ©.

I was in Eastleigh visiting the URIP (Urban Refugee Intervention Programme) branch of Kituo cha Sheria. Like RCK, URIP provides free legal aid to urban refugees in Kenya. I went to compare the two organizations and found out that basically, they do the exact same thing. Refugees (primarily Ethiopian and Somali) come into the office seeking assistance – usually they want help finding a “Durable Solution” a.k.a. resettlement to a third country – and the person doing the screening interview either tells them, “sorry we can’t do anything for you,” or “sorry you have to wait while I pass your case on to my superiors to see if we can do anything.” It’s really quite depressing, though fascinating work. URIP, like RCK, can really only assist with a small percentage of the cases they screen. If someone’s security situation is really really bad (if, for example, an individual was jailed and tortured for 20 years in Ethiopia, escaped to Kenya, but is still being followed by government agents and has been physically attacked multiple times even after moving all over Nairobi), then we can advocate resettlement. But usually, the interviewee’s security situation is just somewhat bad (if, for example, a woman is being constantly harassed and followed by unknown males), and we can’t do anything for her except tell her to “take care.”

I took a matatu back to town from Eastleigh and got dropped off at an area totally unfamiliar to me. After a few moments of panic, I decided to just start walking in the direction that “smelled less foul” as Gandalf would say. Sure enough, after about ten minutes of winding around some narrow streets near the matatu park in Nairobi, I hit Kenyatta avenue – a street that I recognized – and was able to make it to the T-Spot to meet Jamie and the government official we were supposed to interview (and did, then, in fact interview). Don’t worry Mom and Dad, the streets were packed with people and it was very sunny out! (Zombies don’t come out in the sun, remember?).

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