Thursday, March 25, 2010

Street Kids

Nanyuki is like any fairly large city in that it has a population of street people. The difference between the street people of Nanyuki and most American cities is that in Nanyuki most of the street people are kids. There are 48 documented street kids in Nanyuki. Most of them are not homeless in the strictest sense of the word because they have a structure which they call home. If this structure were in the United States however it would be condemned and or the person who lived in it would still be considered homeless.

The kids range in age from 5 to 25 and they are a constant fixture on the streets of Nanyuki. There job is essentially asking Wazungu (foreigners) for money. Since it only takes 20 shillings (30 cents) to by them a meal for the day most of them are easily fed and even end up with a little pocket change to bring home to their often destitute parents. Oftentimes after they are fed they go to a “movie theater” to watch a movie for 5 shillings the movie theaters are little rooms made out of sheet metal and cardboard that have a small TV in them. The best part is that they sometimes hire people to interpret the movie into Swahili while it is playing. I am told that they can also spend 20 shillings playing playstation but I have yet to see it. Sometimes however they are unlucky and end up with no food for the day. As the day goes on they get more desperate for food and therefore more persistent.

Many of the young street kids and almost all of those older than 16 are heavy drug abusers. The drug of choice is huffing glue or petroleum products. The glue is usually put in a small plastic bottle and hidden (sometimes not hidden) in their sleeves or pockets. The huffers are notorious for not being able to control themselves even if they arent high. I have seen kids who appeared to be five years old with glue bottles in their mouth. I was particularly disturbed by two sisters both younger than ten completely out of their mind on glue.

(Two street boys display their glue bottles. The boys told me they are nine years old and have been huffing glue since they were five)

These are desperate kids and if they can’t find glue sometimes they resort to defecating in a bottle and burying it until it ferments. They then retrieve it and inhale the resulting vapors. Like I said…they are desperate.

There is also a group of kids who are poor but they aren't permanent street kids. They are usually kicked out of school maybe twice a year because they don’t have a proper uniform. Usually their clothes become so faded that the school colors are unrecognizable, or their shoes cease to hold their feet in them. These kids usually appear on the street for a few weeks or a month at a time. Their parents work a little harder and save up for the article of clothing and the kids disappear from the street.

Most of the young kids want to go back to school. Many of them don’t do glue…yet. But they will. I am told by the old kids that it is too hard to ask people for money each day. It is embarrassing. It is easier to inhale the fumes and lose your consciousness, even if little by little it takes your humanity with it. I am worried about these young kids who are so sweet and innocent. Kids whose only crime is that their parents don’t have money and only role models are drugged up wild men who barely have brains left in their heads.

I need to do something about this.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Anything and Hot Sauce

If there is anything I miss about the United States it would be the food. The girls at the school subsist on a diet consisting of a base like rice, noodles or ugali. Topped with beans, lentils, maize, cabbage, spinach or potatoes.

The cooks here do a fine job, and actually all of the dishes taste pretty good. The first week I was very happy with each meal. The issue for me is the repetition: the same things are cooked every day and night of the week. There are maybe 4 different meals that are alternated for fourteen meals of lunch and dinner in a week. All of which I take with a large portion of Hot Sauce, in some cases to add to the flavor, in other cases to wash it down while avoiding the flavor.

The biggest personal offender to me is Ugali. It is simply a cooked-up, edible version of flour. It is the consistency of play-doh, odorless, tasteless, and somehow still manages to completely disgust me. It is one of the staples of life here in Kenya and many people eat it for every meal. Thursday and Friday nights are Ugali nights and anyone who is capable of avoiding these meals usually does.

The major factor in my Kenyan diet that I find noticeably lacking is MEAT. We get meat once a week and it is usually goat meat mixed with rice. It is actually pretty tasty if one does not mind picking the bones out of the rice yourself. The one day we had chicken I think you could almost literally find every part of the chicken mixed into the rice, as it turns out a rather small percentage of the chicken is actually meat.

At issue here is a basic cultural difference. In Kenya eating is not for fun, it is for survival. The people who get ugali everyday are among the lucky ones. I dont know anyone from the states who goes to the grocery store and buys themselves a bag of flour as the main component of their meal. In America I eat things that I think taste good, otherwise I don’t eat. I have become addicted to fatty, fried, artificial flavors that are probably terrible for me. I mean really addicted…to the point where I am going through withdrawals. I sat in bed last night imagining Fajitas from Pancho Villa’s in Fairfax, burritos from the gourmet burrito place in LaFayette, Sushi from Tengu in Westwood, Tacos from Jack In The Box, Any Chinese food.

I have cravings for things I have never thought about in my life. Last week there was a day or two when all I could think about was an Orange Julius. I dont really know what an orange Julius is but I imagine it to be an ice cold frothy orange beverage. Actually I still really want one.

I honestly think that if the homeless shelters in the states served ugali no one would show up.
(pictures soon to come)