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Of long drops, culture shocks and much more besides
My fingers have been a-twitch with blogger's itch for a while now.
Honestly. I tap imaginary keyboards in my sleep. I scribble notes down on receipts to write up later. Then lose them. But Lady Luck been distinctly absent in my frustrated search to quench my internet thirst.
Last time I arrived at the Kisii Cyber Cafe ('BROWSE AND SODA BARIDI'), my cheery 'Hello' met with a blank stare from the bemused proprietor. So, I ventured a smile and, getting into the spirit of things, tried a different tack. 'Habari? I would like to browse, please. And I will also take a soda.' No luck. My monosyllabic friend - clearly unaware he was dashing all my blogging hopes - simply offered an apologetic shrug and a blunt 'No power'. Which left me with what I have since discovered to be an ultimatum that often stares down highly-strung Westerners in Kenya: A) flip your lid, or B) take the soda, buy an avocado (current RRP: about 0.03p) and enjoy a snack in the sun. Needless to say, I chose the second option.
Which has meant that, for nearly a month, I've been completely and utterly out of touch. I have only just discovered, for example, the News of the World saga, and the death of Amy Winehouse (the absence of the latter will, I feel, have a much more damaging effect upon modern British culture).
For a self-confessed internet addict, being cut off from the umbilical cord of information and stimulation should have been far more traumatic. But, in all honesty, living in rural Kenya has given me much more food for thought. And now that the Cyber Cafe is finally hooked back up to the generator, my soda is baridi (cold) and my fingers can finally shake off their shackles and tap-tap away, I'm finding that there's more to cram in to the first Kenyan missive than I ever imagined.
As a Kenya Education Partnerships Project Worker (or KEP PW for the acronym inclined amongst us), the past month has been taken up with laboratory and textbook stock takes, managing school investment budgets, contracting electricians and generally more scary, responsible things than you can shake a stick at. And given that as an English student the most practical activity I normally undertake is Practical Criticism, it's without a doubt the most challenging thing I've ever done.
The mind-bending logistical headaches that occur when attempting to haggle for discounts on 400 textbooks are elevated to migraine level by the tarnished, rusty state of my GCSE Maths skills.
Negotiating prices with an electrician is doubly difficult when both sides are trying to leap over language barriers. And the pressure to pull all our projects off perfectly mounts steeply when Innocent Siro, the inimitable headteacher of Iranda Secondary School, lines up 200 hopeful smiling students before us during assembly.
Then again, I also seriously underestimated the very-real power of culture shock. Our little house in Iranda Village is comfortable, cosy and completely lacking in any kind of electricity, gas or water supply. The drop in the pit of your stomach when you reach for a non-existent light-switch is much worse than missing a step on a staircase.
The distance to the long drop in the dead of night is enough to torture you in bed at 3am as you lie desperate for the toilet, but paralysed by fear of the 15cm moth that has recently taken up residence there. And being followed all over the village by a group of over 50 school children yelling with laughter at the colour of your skin ('Mzungu! Mzungu!') is only topped in the humiliation stakes by being asked by a local girl where you get your water from in England.
And the response 'a tap' becomes even more shameful when she just carried 15 litres of water back to your house on her head because you were too weak and Western to fetch it yourself.
But, to any student even semi-pondering a break from education to venture overseas, whether to see the sights of a new country or undertake a development project, I can't recommend it enough.
Perhaps if the Kenyan Shilling internet charges weren't stacking up, I'd tell you how simultaneously surreal and fantastic it is to see light fittings finally being installed in a school that needs them so very much.
Or, if I had more time, perhaps I'd describe the loveliness of matoke stew and chapatis by candlelight amongst kind, generous African friends. Which, sadly, I don't, as my safari bus is waiting and I have been promised sightings of the 'Big 5' (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) on our 4 day trip to the Masai Mara.
So I'll leave you to infer all that, and cancel out the not-inconsiderable cringe potential. If anything really noteworthy happens, let's agree upon the tried and tested message and bottle method.
Or alternatively address all letters to 'The Mzungu, Iranda Village'. It'll have a surprisingly good chance of finding me there.
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