#30 Another Day in Nairobi ‘N Other Stuff

Sunday, August 28, 2011

#30 Another Day in Nairobi ‘N Other Stuff

Today was the last opportunity to visit the Maasai Market before I leave. It’s held in a parking lot in downtown Nairobi, so can be open on weekends only. I went with Jecinta (sw) who is a bargainer. We planned to go immediately after mass, but as luck would have it, the mass was long. I even left early, which I almost never do, asa mzungu can hardly escape unnoticed! The mass was to celebrate the final vows by Sister Mary of this parish. The custom is to have a big mass, huge reception afterwards and then a gathering of all the nuns and priests who have attended. I attended one in 2006 and found it fascinating, but alas, it was not to be this time.

The ride to Nairobi is 1½ hours and it wasn’t too bad going. Read on to know how not lovely the return trip was. One funny incident occurred as we neared the station. The matatu stopped to let off a passenger. I happened to be in the seat by the door—the one that must be vacated before anyone gets off or on. There was a tout there, who thought maybe I wasn’t nimble enough, so rather rudely told me to sit further back. “No, I’m going to sit here with my friend.” This met with a scowl. “Don’t give me a hard time!” “I will give you a hard time!” “And I’ll give you a hard time back!” This ended with laughter from both the tout and me. He must have thought he could browbeat this old mzungu, but he didn’t take in personally when I didn’t back down.

It’s a bit of a trek to the market. I wrote about it before, but I still am amazed at the traffic including cars, buses, trucks, taxis, matatus, people, bicycles, carts, piki-piki’s, all missing each other my nano-meters. The sidewalks, where they exist, are very narrow, roughly paved, potholed and jammed. Jecinta led the way and I dutifully followed, always careful to look BOTH WAYS, b/c even after all this time, in a pinch, I am not sure which direction the traffic will come from. And sometimes it doesn’t matter, b/c it’s coming from both directions in the same lane!

Finally we could see the fenced parking lot and —Oh no! There were cars in it and no market! Ach! What was I to do? Should have bought more the last time I came, although we were so loaded down with purchases we couldn’t have carried more. And then…oops! We were looking at the wrong parking lot. Next to the one with cars was the one with the market. A sigh of relief!

I am such a dope for forgetting to take my camera! The market is jammed, busy, colorful and full of great stuff. We spent maybe 3 hours trudging, looking, bargaining, walking away when the prices were too high and evading the more persistent hawkers who pester mzungus. I bought things I hope people will like. Some things I’ve bought before, like salad sets with animal handles, lovely carves bowls, 1 nativity scene (but can get more), purses, and much more, including some cutenesses— always fun.

Immediately as we approached the gate we were accosted by a young man who thought he was going to be our guide (and would collect his shillings from any vendor we bought from). However, he got the same short shrift the tout had received, and as we walked on by I heard him say, “I’ll just wait for another American mzungu!” We both had a chuckle from that.

The bargaining process is not my favorite part, but sometimes we reach an amicable price. The vendors are very dramatic. “Oh madam, it is not possible.” “Because you are my customer (we had just walked up to his stall) I will give you a wholesale price” (which is generally twice what he’s willing to sell for). We saw one crèche set, not very well carved and not as large as some I’ve brought back before. Since we hadn’t seen others, we asked the price. “For you I’ll offer at a very good price.” “What is that very good price?” “Ksh 4500” “What! I’ve bought much better sets than that for a bit more than ksh 3000.” Face falls, shocked look of disbelief. “No madam, is not possible.” “Ok, it’s all right,” as we walked away. Later when he saw us buying from another vendor he came over to offer it for the 2000 he had scoffed at 15 minutes before. But “No, the one I bought here is much better.” Needless to say, he was disappointed, but in fact the second one was better.

Each purchase is a major discussion. Sometimes I was perfectly willing to pay what the vendor asked. They are just folks, trying to make a living, but sometimes it was clear they were gouging. That raises my hackles! We wandered up and down aisles, not daring to stop too long lest the owner accost us and offer us “a very good price.” Everything is tempting and I always wish I knew what people would like to have. Here is a picture of our purchases, laid out on the bed in my “guest room.” It doesn’t look like much, but it felt like a lot when we were dragging it all back. I wish I could have bought more of those brown and black purses. They are very nice, but bulky and can’t be folded like the ones woven from native grasses. In addition I have other items in suitcases plus the 2 suitcases we sent home with someone else a few weeks ago—which I have to go to Pasadena to retrieve.

At the matatu station (stage), the tickets indicate which vehicle to board. As ours backed into the loading space, the other, more experienced travelers pushed forward to get the best seats, while Jecinta and I, so loaded down we could barely push through the impossibly narrow aisle had to take the very back seat. I “won” the corner. The windows never close tightly, so as we got out onto the highway, where the driver demonstrated his having trained at the Bat-Out-Of-Hell Driving School, the cold wind came in on my shoulder and neck. I was jammed into the seat that has reduced foot space due to the wheel covering, my lap was full of parcels and I was so cold! I tried bunching up my jacket against the window, but nothing would block the wind. It was the longest 1 ½ hours!!!!

Back home at last, Jecinta and I brewed some tea and reviewed the day. On the whole we felt we’d done well. Then I had to drive her home, back up towards SFG. In the meantime, Catherine had called and wanted to bring someone to visit me. My kitchen was sporting Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, so had to stop at a small market for more milk for tea. I didn’t think to get some biscuits or other goody. In Kenya visitors are always fed, especially if they arrive at meal time, but I truly had nothing and I was bushed!

The visitor was Samantha, a young Stanford grad student whom Catherine had met in Uganda at a training on using small water testing kits—a great boon for small rural communities. After the training, Samantha had come to Kenya to learn more about Life Bloom and had fallen in love with the program, as is so often the case. Catherine is hoping she will give more visibility to LB in the US.

We chatted over tea for maybe an hour before they went off and decided I didn’t need any dinner. I’d just flop on my bed and maybe have some toast or something later. As I was clearing away the cups, my phone rang. Fr Kiriti was wondering why I wasn’t at the rectory for the party after the party after the mass. I had known about the party but had not understood that I was invited. Since I’d left mass early, I was embarrassed to show my face, but off I trotted. The call was something of a command performance. Only as I walked in did I become aware I was dressed in my jeans, which I had worn to Nairobi so I could wear my sneakers. Oh, I was a charming sight!

I was amazed at how many of the priests and nuns I knew, including Sr Helen, an old friend who had come the night before and had  stayed in my guest room. Here she is sitting on my bed for a few more minutes of catching up before we slept.

She is here from her station in in Jamaica, where she works with HIV patients, does counseling and prevention  education. She is totally dedicated to her work and goes wherever she is told, doing whatever she is told.  We met several years ago when she was briefly stationed here in Naivasha, doing HIV work.

Back at the party, I talked to all the old familiar faces and introduced myself to those I didn’t know. The food was great, although by the time I arrived it was greatly diminished. Fortunately there was  lots of salad, which I crave, being too busy (lazy?) to prepare it for myself.

As soon as I could gracefully leave, I slipped out, trotted back to my room and fell into bed. After all,  Monday was another day of teaching.

Best, Margo

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