Yesterday, I truly realized what a special experience Camille and I are having, and how much I will actually miss Kenya.
Although we are still in Kenya’s summer months, it has been surprisingly rainy for the past week. It was raining yesterday as I pulled out of driveway to go pick up some groceries and meet some friends. About a mile down the road, I saw five women leaving a flower farm to begin walking home in the rain.
(Quick side note: Even those Kenyans who lack running water, washers/dryers, and are constantly walking through dust, dirt, and mud, Kenyans are the best dressed, cleanest people I have been around. They despise getting wet. Everyone always has perfectly clean shoes and crisp, brightly colored dresses, blouses or collared shirts. No men wear t-shirts. My typical outfit is a timeworn t-shirt, my REI hiking pants, my less than sparkling sneakers, and an amazing beard and mustache. Yes, I look filthy.)
Despite working all day, all five women's clothes and shoes were clean. They looked wonderful, and now it was beginning to pour. I pulled over, and the five crammed into my car. I had a newly open box of crackers that I offered to the women. In about three minutes, all the crackers were gone. They were laughing, talking, asking me questions, and eating crackers. I dropped them off about two miles away, an hour walk from the flower farm.
A few minutes later, I passed a small boy somehow carrying an enormous stack of branches on his head, in the rain, on bear feet. He was smiling. Fifty yards behind him were two weary looking women carrying large jugs of water on their heads, talking, as they walked in the rain.
Kenyan people can be amazing, despite living through what we would consider extremely harsh conditions. It is just normal life for them.
Part of this normal life is dealing with corruption. Kenya has suffered from poor leadership, and the resulting ethos is characterized by the familiar Kenyan saying, “It’s our turn to eat.” Life can be so challenging for impoverished Kenyans that when a person achieves or gains a position of power, they and those related to them (or in their tribe) feel it is their turn to reap the benefits. It is their turn to accept bribes. It is their turn to win outrageous bids on phantom government contracts. It is their turn to work sparingly and ignore responsibilities to their people.
It begins at the very top, where unquestioned aid from western governments helps fuel the corruption in the federal government. (I would argue that there is implicit corruption in the American government from lobbyists and campaign fundraisers as well, but both those topic are for a later blog.)
The corruption filters down to the local levels and especially to the police. Matatu taxi vans must carry extra funds to bribe police officers at regular checkpoints. One of the askari (or guards) at the residents' house wanted to join the police force. He is hardworking, trustworthy, reliable, and would make an excellent policeman. He completed all the necessary training steps to becoming a policeman, but when it came time to get an official job, a superior officer told him he had to pay a substantial bribe. He did not have the money. Completely dejected, he said that corruption is Kenya and it will never change.
Never say never. I was driving through Nairobi last Wednesday when I came to a traffic circle. Nairobi drivers are notorious for ignoring all rotary rules and just trying to blitz through the circle, leading to congestion and accidents. To solve the problem, the city installed expensive traffic lights at each rotary with illuminated numbers counting down until red lights change to green. The problem is, everyone ignores the lights and still blitzes through. Thus, rotaries now have traffic lights AND policeman controlling traffic.
When I arrived at the rotary, the car in front of me was charging ahead, and my light was green, so I charged as well. A moment later, the car ahead of me hit their brakes. I did the same, and I noticed a police officer running over to me from the driver’s side. Uh oh. How much money do I have on me again? He approached my open window and said, “I could have you thrown in jail this instant for disobeying traffic laws. You should beg for my forgiveness.” A number of responses ran through my head, but I went with this one: “But the light was green!”
The police officer looked at me for moment and then said calmly, “Yes, but you must listen to the police first. Next time, be more careful.” And he left.
No bribe! After all the stories I’d heard, an honest police officer! There are good people in positions of authority in Kenya, but maybe there just are not enough. The right leaders will eventually control Kenya, end corruption, and inspire more honorable leaders to follow. As they say in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
Enough blogging, I’m hungry. Is it my turn to eat?
|Check our my enormous zucchini. I love our garden.|
Eric and I had a thrilling week! Hmmm... what did we do...
|We sat in hammocks|
|Had a couple beers|
|Played ping pong|
|Lounged and ate some fries|
|And admired a beautiful view of Lake Naivasha|
I promise an enormous zucchini to anyone who comments. Thank you for reading!