A Travellerspoint blog

October 2007

Books! Again! and Again!

The Road to Hell: Michael Marren
Africa Betrayed
Africa In Chaos: George B.N. Ayittey.

I have also updated some photos and may be password protecting my blog in the near future as I am edging closer and closer to posting some fairly negative things about my work and the aid industry.

The password is intended only to keep the blog out of google searches.
The login and pw will be: "Natyb25"
Exactly as typed.

Computer arrives in T minus 4 weeks. Should be an avalanche of stuff, once I don't have to pay money for time to type.

Posted by Natyb25 01:43 Comments (2)

Received books

My mother loves me very much.

I have received
Borges Non-Fiction and the new translation of Proust.
I post this cause people have wanted to know what I have already received.
As a side note, anything sent in a padded envelope avoids the customs process that takes an extra month and costs me lots of money.

Posted by Natyb25 02:43 Comments (1)


The powers been out for two days now. I read that during New York's last extended blackout millions in food spoiled: torrents of water rushing out the door of the walk in freezers of posh hot spots. The only refridgerator in Talai is the coke cooler and I've never seen that plugged in.
At home, a lack of internet, TV, cell service, microwave oven and electric stove would mean a dinner of tuna fish sandwiches and carrot sticks, a half hour of staring at one another over old Christmas candles and then early bedtime.
In rural Africa, life continues pretty much as usual.
Electricity has yet to gain the daily currency of necessity here. The radios and TVs, the electric lights, they are conveniences whose absence tonight reveals a still vibrant life.
The guys next door are talking and laughing together, the family two doors down is singing songs. In the next compound I can hear kids playing hide and seek in the garden.
In short, they are doing all the things that people used to do before the effort required for imagination and conversation became greater than we cared to expend.
Of course, they already have early symptoms of our illness: the silent stare of the TV dinner. The non-improvisible evening built around scheduled reruns of "Walker: Texas Ranger." And they've only had a taste of the effortless and seamless distraction possible from that plug on the wall.
You can see the stars tonight. You can see them every night, actually. When I stop in the middle of the road to stare up at them or sit out on my front porch, chair tipped back head on the window sill, Kenyans ask me what I see. Whats so interesting?
How can I explain?
No one here can conceive that someday they'll be gone, dimmed behind the amber orange of street lights over empty parking lots. No one here enjoys blackouts.
Except me.

Posted by Natyb25 02:28 Comments (0)

Rumble in the Jungle

This piece is left over from training in Kitui and I have only just completed it.

The WWF is not popular with Peace Corps Kenya Volunteers. It's appearance every night on the black and white TV's of our home stay families is embarrassing. It's improper. The uniquely American intersection of commercialized violence, distorted body image and overblown gender roles is just too much for us to bear. It's exactly the kind of stereotyping we should be working against. (Or so I've been told)
At my house, the car battery responsible for all electrical activities emerges from Baba's room at 9p for the news. That is except on Tuesday's nights, when it emerges an hour earlier. Michael, the youngest, staggers out under its weight, rushing to push it on the cabinet before his strength fails. We turn down the gas lanterns and over the next 10 minutes the room silently and anonymously fills with neighboring boys and girls. They sit in uncharacteristic focus and silence.
It's been said that high culture digests and dissects, low culture manipulates. Wrestling is ‘low’ culture because its derivative. It pushes preprogrammed buttons; using cultural objects and social roles in the simplest way, by exaggerating them. But for the dozen odd Kenyan kids I'm sitting with in the dark, there's no self-righteous heterosexual masculinity at work. And there's not enough variation in skin color for racial typing to even be a comprehensible concept.
The crass commercialism and consequence free violence are all too American. And watching their enthusiastic reception its easy to forget that these kids live totally separate from the waste and objectification of a consumer culture or the cold and clean inhumanity of a remote control war. What can be viewed as pumped up, loud, machismo is - for this room of barefoot, wide eyed kids - remarkably earnest entertainment. For them too, wrestling is manifestly American.
It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand English. Heroes, villians and clowns are all apparent prior to their words and the drama they unfold is so manifestly physical that the combatant's grunts and groans speak volumes. The room is silent except for the hiss of a sudden breath as a flying kick off the ropes connects or the quiet background muttering of rotely memorized catch phrases.
Wrestling is larger than life; it's full of pageantry and drama. It's a struggle under bright lights on an epic scale. It's rich and big and exciting. In short, its very much the way these kids see America.
You can say it’s fake. It’s steroids and choreagraphed action. But it doesn't matter that the picture's incomplete - that America is infinitely more complex than they can know - because their excitement is genuine. Wrestling has a physicality that catches their breath. It has heroes and villians that live for them.
America is bigger and brighter in their minds than any other place and the image they possess is tidy, simplistic and miraculous. But sitting with them, soaking in their open mouthed wonder, I'm reminded how many things I take for granted. 400 channels, endless hot water, the pharmacy just down the street; small assumptions of daily life that pass unnoticed.
So, yes, the picture's incomplete and, no, the glitz and glamour aren't always real, but that doesn't mean there's something wrong with them enjoying the show. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't do well to cultivate a little wonder of my own.

Posted by Natyb25 03:53 Comments (0)

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