Saturday, 1 December 2012



Note for the folks at home (in Kenya): Thank you all for a truly incredible two years. I couldn't have expected the massive amount of things I'd learn and see and do. It's hard to describe what the last two years mean to me, (and I'm better at drawing funny frowny faces than writing words, anyway,) so I'll just say: it's been amazing.

Note for the folks at home (in the U.S.): Thanks for reading! See you soon.

Saturday, 24 November 2012



Note for the folks at home: The Kirisia Craftsmanship Club is the club I run at the school where I work, Kirisia Boys' High School. The forty Craftsmen (as the club's members are known) meet three days a week to learn practical craftsmanship skills (like painting, carpentry, and masonry) from the school handyman ("fundi") and then practice these skills by repairing and improving the school compound. The students are repaid for their labor by reductions in their school fee debt by the school administration.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Particular Stumbling Block


Note for the folks at home: One of my favorite jokes heard in Kenya came from my good friend Abdi. First, some background information: Idi Amin was a violent dictator who held power in Uganda in the seventies. Known today for his extravagant self-image and less than extravagant intelligence, this is the tyrant who gave himself the actual title: "Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". NOW FOR THE JOKE: As Idi Amin was wresting power for himself in Uganda, foreign residents began flooding out of the country for their own safety. In their wake, they left thousands of offices empty. Amin strolled through one of his freshly-emptied cities, and angrily asked one of his aides, "Who the hell is this Sal-e, and how is he so wealthy?!" The aide asked for clarification, and Amin replied, "All of these businesses have signs that say 'For Sal-e'! We have to find this Sal-e and kill him!"

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Is It True


Note for the folks at home: Among my students, there is a curiously popular belief about American celebrities. Without a hint of humor, several students have asked me about The Illuminati, a secret brotherhood of devil-worshipers that rule American pop culture from the shadows. Jay-Z and Beyonce, the leaders of the dark organization, have made sinister dealings with the devil to gain their worldly fame and fortune. According to my students, few celebrities escape allegations of association with The Illuminati, and the more famous a celebrity, (logically,) the deeper he or she is involved. Other members include Lil' Wayne, Lady Gaga, most professional football (translation for American readers: "soccer") players, and even Mr. Barack Obama himself. The only people who are safe from accusations of Illuminati dealings, in fact, are those that have been "killed by the Illuminati"... which, as far as I can tell, are pretty much any celebrity who has died, including Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Marley, and Ghandi. (That last one is not a joke.) I haven't been able to make any progress disproving these claims.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hair Grow


Note for the folks at home: Christianity is the most popular religion in rural Maralal (and probably Kenya in general). Churches range in size from massive stone halls that can easily hold a thousand worshipers to ramshackle timber-and-sheet-metal huts that would feel cramped at ten. Singing is a big part of most church services, with lyrics in English, Kiswahili, and many tribal mother tongues. If a church has access to electricity, a common tactic is to hook up a synthesizer to a loudspeaker and blast a looping chord progression and drum-machine at the maximum volume to keep time. The booming sound system can be heard across town, so on busy Sundays you might find yourself inundated with a cacophony of several churches' contributions. Jesus is often called "Jesu" (pronounced "YAY-soo"), where God (or maybe Jesus...? Honestly, I'm not sure) is sometimes referred to as "Baba" ("father") or "Bwana" ("mister").

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Enjoy the Varied Fragrances of Rural Kenya


Note for the folks at home: In some areas of Kenya, a traditional mode of tooth care involves brushing with the stick of a certain fibrous tree (which may be called "Salvadora persica"... if you're willing to trust sources as malevolently unsubstantiated as Wikipedia). Narrow branches are picked from the upper reaches of the tree, and the bark is removed to expose the inner fibers. The practice is still common today, notably among the Samburu people (who populate the region around Maralal). In some cases, the traditional practice is given a modern twist when toothpaste is smeared on the Salvadora stick before usage. The stick does leave the mouth feeling clean, but how it compares to the alternative "toothbrush-and-toothpaste" method, I'm not sure.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

First Name


Note for the folks at home: Outside of the Samburu culture, many Kenyan tribes have stricter rules on the naming of children. The Kikuyu system is the most common: the first-born male and first-born female must be named for the fathers' father and mother, whereas the second-born male and second-born female are named for the mothers' parents. (Two baby boys in a row, then, represent both sides of the family tree, despite no girls being born yet.) From that point on, each subsequent male child alternates between a fathers'-side relative and a mothers'-side relative, and each subsequent female child follows the same rule. Members of the extended family who desire a name-sake, I'm told, may coax a couple into continuing to reproduce, until their turn comes. (This is one rationalization I've heard for the traditionally large sizes of Kenyan families.)