Wednesday, June 20, 2012

From the Field

Let me summarize this post in the introduction: “Field Work was an interesting tour of Western Province”.
I toured the interior of Western Province in the name of work, traversing the rural hinterland. Some places have no real roads, where most mud huts are grass-thatched, and their owners till the soil by day. Barefoot kids ran behind our motorbike, cheering wildly, which suggests just how remote those areas are.

Entering Western Province, I had high hopes of interacting with a different culture from my own – which I am out of touch with. This “exchange program” was disappointing: the only remnant of culture in this corner of the planet may be their language. Blame it on global villagization. As far as I could see, Western Kenya has become uniform with the rest of Kenya: conformed to the rigors of the money cycle. Just like the rest of the world, Western Kenya aspires to Westernize. It may be time to ask “Why? At what cost?” But it’s too late. Whatever cultural artifacts and rites remain are reserved for seasons and sales, but they have largely lost their communal essence.

I enjoyed and/or suffered many Chinese Motorbike ( aka bodaboda/okada) experiences. The rider would frequently overtake ten-wheeler trailers on narrow dusty all-weather roads at breakneck speeds as I held on to my perch at the back. We would hit potholes and fly over bumps like Motocross champions, so that the motorbike’s suspensions would complain with alarming grinding creaks. A lot of the time I feared for my life as I passed inches wide of a series of gigantic trailer wheels bouncing heavily along the murram. But our rider seemed to know what he was doing, which assurance was a regulating influence on my frightfully frequent bursts of adrenaline. Ultimately, our Chinese Motorbike thrills climaxed in Mount Elgon area. The road was muddy, so we got along by drifting - moving forward by skidding sideways. There was a lot of legwork involved to maintain balance. The wheels spun furiously in search of grip, the bike engine alternately roared and wheezed; the stench of burning engine oil assailed our nostrils. Inevitably we fell in the mud, rider and passenger together, after which we had to carry the motorbike for a bit. Luckily we could laugh about it.

My vegetarian conundrum (elsewhere mentioned) persisted: Green farms everywhere and not a vegetarian meal to be had! It was truly puzzling. One often found oneself relegated to junk food for supper in the name of avoiding flesh. One nearly opens an NGO to champion vegetarians’ equal representation rights.

I took extra effort to identify and play soccer with the locals wherever I went. After a whole day on the back of a Chinese motorbike, which makes the lower back rigid, a fast and vigorous evening game of soccer is just the thing to set one's anatomy straight. That was always exciting. I particularly liked the team at Bungoma’s Kanduyi Stadium.Fun and talented lot.

I took a brief detour into Uganda when I was in Malaba, the border town, because I harbored delusions of international tourism. However I barely went a kilometer into Uganda. But that one deserves a whole other post.

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