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Monday, November 27, 2006

Kenya Chapter 2: Orientations in a Sweaty Nation

Chapter 2: Orientations and Sweaty Nations

Starting to slowly settle in now. The first weird thing to get used to is that we have a cleaner. It's a bit bizarre. Someone to do our washing and dusting. She's provided by the school but we pay her. Her name is Gladys and she is lovely. She sings while she cleans and gives me advice on songs as I compose them on the balcony. She tells me what she likes and she doesn't like. She is also teaching me a little Swahili. She speaks great English though, and her choice phrase is 'Bravo to you.' I just have to get used to the idea. It's a little weird!

The weekend brought English germs to Kenya. Katie was pretty much floored all weekend with a common cold. It was her first for months, and the heat didn't exactly help. So she was knocked out most of the weekend. Saturday afternoon, I went swimming in the school pool only to jump out when I noticed a huge sign saying it was currently undergoing chemical cleaning. Whoops. So far nothing has burnt off so I may be lucky. Saturday morning, two of Katie's colleagues had gone deep sea fishing with some visitors. One of them managed to catch an 18 pound momma of a fish. It was massive and juicy. Saturday night, we barbequed the fish under the stars on the roof of our building and listened Lily Allen and thought of London, so far away.

It's strange being away from popular culture. No NME's, no Scrubs, no Spidey comics. I'm having to learn to exist without all these stimulations, and find other things to keep me entertained. DVD's, cards, reading and playing the guitar all figure, as well as taking practice British citizenship tests in a book I have brought out here to help me with some research.

On Sunday, Katie felt a little more energetic so we went exploring the beaches up the coast. She took me to a picturesque hotel on the beach near some headland, where you could walk out to the reef, and sink your toes in squelchy white sand. We swam in the pool, I played some beach football with some local beach boys and some German tourists, we listened to an old Kenyan man play 80's pop classics on a Casio keyboard and went home. The beach boys are an interesting bunch here. They'll hawk anything. They will sell you things, guide you, give you company, take you fishing, anything to get you money. They'll even sleep with whoever pays. Some even dress as Masai-Mara for the tourists. Prostitution is treated quite blasé here. It's uncomfortable. In the evening, we drove up to Mtwapa, further up the coast and went to a bar in a creek called Moorings. Shane's dad had introduced Katie to this bar and it's quite majestic. It's in the middle of a creek, it's a little pier that you have to climb over a narrow bridge to get to. The sun sets over the creek and beauty throughout the entire surface of water reflecting off the trees. We had a few drinks there and watched the sun set over distant Mombasa.

Monday and Tuesday I got to work, reading and researching about Britishness for the poetry project I am about to work on. For lunches, I would meet Katie at a little shack at the school gates where the smiley Mama Fatuma makes lentils, spicy cabbage and chapattis for 30 shillings (5p or something ridiculous), all tasty and served with mounds of steamed rice. We then took our dishes and sat by the school pool with the other teachers. I have also been visiting a complex near the school where there is a cinema, English style pub showing football and a Café Mocha (the same chain as the one we performed at in India). Life is easy here. Quiet, sleepy and chilled. Well, it's too hot to be particularly urgent about much. On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, I went to the school cricket nets and played cricket with the 6th form cricket team. They are all great players and really helpful. They helped me get to a decent medium pace seam. Once I've warmed up next week, they'll see the return of my demon swing. Wednesday was spent working and in the evening, we went to the pub. Well I took a guy called Simon (who is visiting one of the other teachers) to the pub to drink Tusker beer play pool and watch FOOTBALL, while the girls watched some girly film 'Devil Wears Prada' or something equally offensive to my man-like eyes.

Speaking of masculinity. Another visitor left an FHM for me. I haven't read the magazine since I was 16. It's appalling. But anyway, there's a teacher here who teaches geography (those who can't, teach… geography) when he really wants to be a rugby teacher. Blessed with Small Man Syndrome, he is constantly trying to assert his manliness over me. When he saw me running around the school field, he demanded that I come with him to play a more serious sport… touch rugby (yep, serious games for woosies). I've never got on with rugby types. Watch out for him.

On Thursday, Simon and I decided to visit the old town. We took a mutatu (like the local buses, colourful minivans decorated with the logos of hip-hoppers like The Game and 50 Cent) into town. Mutatus are laws unto themselves. They don't move for anyone in the road. They speed up. They may only have 14 seats but they will seat up to 20 people in the cramped low-ceilinged back of the van. They drive fast and they only cost a maximum of 25 shillings for a long journey. (130 shillings to the pound). We got to the old town. I marvelled at how untouched by a lot of western society it was. We walked all over, and didn't see a single McDonalds or billboard for Nike anywhere. It was amazing. There were however, graffiti slogans celebrating Al-Queada everywhere. Simon and I tried to find some decent hip-hop but could only manage soft raga-influenced dancehall. They didn't seem to get that we wanted the rugged hard shit, like Prophets of da City or X-Plastaz. We walked down Jomo Kenyatta Avenue where my grandfather once owned a shop. We walked to the giant tusks that greet you on entering the city. As we walked away from the tusks, I noticed a bar that my father had mentioned called Casablancas. It was starting to rain so we ran for shelter inside. Inside, there were 10 female prostitutes lined up at the bar all staring at us as soon as we entered. We maintained eye contact and chatted as much as we could and kept ourselves to ourselves. It didn't stop the girls' madame, an elderly lady with glazed eyes approaching us and telling us that her girls wanted to sleep with us. We said we weren't interested and she got offended, taking up an uninvited seat at our table and spitting as she frothed about how we could possibly turn down her girls. We shrugged and said it wasn't our style, not our bag. She remained sat there and said ok fine, can we talk? We said ok. She kept asking questions about where we were from and what we did, trying to suss out our financial situations. Eventually she left.

Another girl replaced her. She introduced herself as Jassinder. We told her that we were on our way to the airport. She stayed anyway. She asked what we did for a living. We said we were poor students. Simon and I carried on our conversation and she sat there at the table like a lemon. She said nothing before reintroducing herself again 10 minutes later. We nodded and called over the waiter. Our food was 45 minutes late and we were wondering whether the delay was so that we could get proffered out. All the girls had been speaking to the waiter and he knew who they all were.

Our food arrived and we ate. It wasn't good at all. I silently rued my father mentioning this place. I'm sure he wasn't to know. Kenya has probably changed a lot since he was last here in 1966. We finished our food and we prepared to leave, a woman approached us wearing a low boob tube and short skirt, jiggling as she bounced over to us. She pinned Simon to his chair with her eyes.

'So, we going to sleep together?' she demanded of him. He was taken aback by her forthrightness.

'Errr, no.' He replied.

'Why do you not want to sleep with this sexy lady? We can do anything you want.' Simon was flustered. He said we had a plane to catch in 30 minutes. She said 30 minutes was plenty as there were rooms upstairs. He said no, she frowned at him flirtatiously. I interjected.

'We're married.'

She shrugged.

'We're married… errrr… we're both priests… and we respect the sanctity of marriage!!' I offered. She shrugged. She could not understand why we didn't want to sleep with her.

We finally managed to find our way out of the place with her snapping at our heels in frustration. I don't think we'll be going back. By this time, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. It was HOT. We found sanctuary in a guide-book approved bar. I read about Casablanca in the same guidebook. It was notorious for hookers. Whoops.

We returned that evening on another mutatu, one even more cramped and that evening, Katie and I planned our December holiday. We have a month off so we're heading to Victoria Falls and a tea plantation in West Kenya.

In the meantime, this weekend is her birthday weekend so lots of fun to be had.

In the meantime, I wonder what's happening in Eastenders!!


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