A Travellerspoint blog

August 2007

HOUSE PARTY!

But with dignity and deep cross cultural reflection.

The envelopment of this life, here, seems to rise and fall in waves. Crests like today at the house opening of Reuben, the doctor who runs my clinic. A brief moment where I was actually sitting in the moment and realized that my level of alienation, my sense of being exterior to the intricacies and subtleties of life here is equal only to the wholistic and endless depth that must be present for those native to such a known place.
If I could pass as Kenyan, if I could walk down the street here and, prior even to speech, appear undistinguishable, there is still another layer to this place. In more difficult to pierce or even comprehend for someone accustomed to, wistful for, anonymity.
An endless line of extended (a qualifier necessary only in the West) family and childhood friends, church elders and school teachers, neighbors and coworkers - and each person overflowing from one category to the next - came today to help Reuben celebrate.
My presence always seems accompanied by an unnecessary aplomb, by an unctuous sort of acknowledgement. But considering the finely woven and densely layered blanket of relations that envelopes every person I have met here, my separateness, my lack of relation, seems as notable as it always appears to them.
And for a moment today I sat within that space. I saw the years that Reuben has started and stopped construction of this modest home. I saw the chain of friends and family who have watched it slowly rise, who have taken chai and talked about the siting, or windows, the painting, the bricks, the roof, the way life would be different when it was complete.
Watching his wife's eyes, her pursed lips as she shared this space for the first time with those who compose her life, I saw that the immense effort, ceremony, time into celebrating (what can only be a small step beyond the phase of construction the house was at three months ago) has everything to do with the depth of those relations and their roots in this place.
And returning home, to my government rented home, looking at my photos of family and friends, I disapear from Africa altogether. I'm on the El platform at Addison, I'm walking on Clark St. beach. Sitting on Foss hill, diving off the barge into Long Lake. I'm on the top floor of Olin, taking a nap on the floor.
I realize that, in the anonymous world I come from, the only space that connects all the pieces - the places and people and past and future - is me.
A new house for me wouldn't deserve the attention that Reuben's does, because my house is incapable of meaning what his does and will.
It is largely inconceivable that Reuben will sell this land in his lifetime. It's extremely unlikely that he will not live until his dying day in the structure he sits in tonight; his home for the first time.
More than that, it is not simply another, it is more and better. Stronger and warmer and more permanent. Safer and more comfortable. It is, in very real and visibly apparent ways, an improvement. An acknowledgement to him and his work. To his effort to make thing better for his children and wife. He didn't buy it on credit, he's not keeping up with the Jones', he isn't frustrated that its not bigger or more impressive.
The confusion of symbol and object that is the crux of American consumerism is absent here. The object and the symbol stand side by side, both equally relevant and equally important.

Posted by Natyb25 03:22 Comments (0)

Books!

If you have lots of extra money and time, here's my wish list.

Rieff, David. A bed for the night: humanitarianism in Crisis. 2002

Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa" (essay)

Okri, Ben. The Famished Road.

Couto, Mia. Under the Frangipani

"Kwani?" Magazine (any issue)

Wainaina, Binyavanga. Discovering Home (2008) and "How to write about Africa" in Granta (2007)

Institutions, Instituitional Change and Economic Performance. Douglas North. Cambridge U Press 1990

Lawlessness and Economics: Altearnative Models. Dixit. Princeton U Press 2004

Reinventing the Bazaar: A natural history of Markets. McMillian, John. New york, Norton. 2002

The Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid; eradicating poverty thru profits. Prahalad, CK.

Also, any econ books on remittance income. Foucault on development as "sanitization" and anything on relative speed of technological innovation vs/and adaption before and after the steam engine.

Posted by Natyb25 03:28 Comments (0)

It Can't Rain All the Time

Unless you live on the Equator at 9,000 feet

The rain has stopped now. Or slowed. It comes and goes and "stop" has a sense of finality that the weather at 9000 feet rejects. Besides, once the rain stops outside, it continues in here. Little droplets pit and pat about the room as moisture condenses on the cold steel of the corrugated roof. It is a reminder that, thermodynamically, I live in a cave (but with windows). I imagine that if humans abandoned this space for a hundred years, we'd have some pretty sweet stalagtites. In the meantime, this slow and grandly patient geological process, goes just fast enough to keep me awake. The noise worries me. The moisture is concerning. Mostly because I keep thinking long term. "2 years," I say. And I imagine the moisture creeping into my books and clothes. Finding soft yellow mould growing on the armpits of my sweaters. I imagine the house on Paper street; my objects slowly digesting themselves from the inside out.
Each object has its own peculiar sound when struch by a drop, like a set of tuned drums. The roof slopes from highest near the back to lowest near the windows at the front, so the power and amplitude of the beat varies as much as the timbre of the resonating surface.
The easy (or easiest) solution is to get up and open all the windows. If its as cold out there as it is in here, then the cold steel of the roof won't act as a condensing surface, drawing together moisture out of the relatively warmer and wetter air. A dynamic that, at this moment, reminds me of drinking iced coffee at the Starbucks across from Wrigley, sitting in the 90 degree heat, plastic cup beaded with perspiration in the hot summer sun.
In addition to being an irksome reminder of how long it has been since I had any real coffee, this bright summery image of Chicago in August is a stark contrast as I lay, hood up, in a sweatshirt, thermal shirt, undershirt, long-johns, wool socks, sleeping bag and sheet pocket, with an extra sweater and vest draped over me in the pre-dawn pitch dark.
Did I mention I live very near to the equator?
I suppose I'll just get up. Going back to sleep for an hour isn't necessarily appealing. Plus, the four guys from Kenya Power, the ones bringing stima - electricity - to Talai (who live next door to me in a space a quarter the size of my sitting room) sound like they are awake. Or at least cold and dripped on enough in the dark to not be asleep. And so, soon enough, they will get up and put on Kiss FM, Kenya's #1 radio station. The interview I read with the superstar studio director says that he turned the station around by playing the music that people want to hear. That means the same extraordinarily catchy yet rather indistinctive American pop pouring out of some 16 year old girls boombox as she sits baking on North Avenue Beach right now.
Boy, I'm cold.
They will play the radio at the same volume as all the other radios here in Kenya: two notches too high for the tinny, cheap speakers the music is coming thru. The bass will be washed out or crackle thru the broken speaker cone. Somewhere in East Africa, there is a new boombox or radio, one that has not yet been blown out by the rhythmic pumping beat of J.T. bringing sexy back, but not here, not today.
So I'll get up.
I'll make chai. Milky and sweet black tea with my last two pieces of white bread. ("Wheat bread? You are the Diabetic?") Red plum jelly and Blue Band Margarine. I have two eggs to hard boil, a heat of the moment, gametime breakfast decision, after finding yesterday that - well, obviously - there is no bread in town on Sundays.
I'll study Kiswahili, read some more T.E. Lawrence. I'll open all the goddamned windows. I'll prepare for my first day of work at the Ministry of Health Dispensary in Talai and think about which road I want to walk down this afternoon greeting people, practicing the language and ostensibly filling the time until I make dinner.
I will read and write by Kerosene lamp. I will put on more clothes to sleep than I wore during the day.
I will hope for a night without the steady thrumming of ice cold rain on my thin metal roof.
But I kind of doubt it.

Posted by Natyb25 02:38 Comments (0)

New Permanent Address

Mail sent to old address will be forwarded...but just use the new one...

NATE BAUMGART
C/O TALAI DISPENSARY
PO BOX 86
KABARNET, KENYA

I have also just found internet in Kabarnet! Which I am using!
And I will again later!
Yeah!!
But thats it for now.

Posted by Natyb25 04:23 Comments (2)

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