I get good questions all the time about life here in Kisumu. People always want to know about the size of the city, my living conditions, and the availability of food or grocery stores. So, I will dedicate the next few blogs to attempting to answer some of the questions about life here working for Ndoto.
Today, I’ll try to give you a glimpse into a few of the different places I’ve lived and some of the best and worst parts of them. These very things make up my environment here.
I definitely live in the nicest place I’ve ever lived in here. I’ve sometimes struggled with the luxury of it all, as it SO different from how I began. Think: small fridge, stove & oven (woohoo!), CEILING FANS & HOT WATER from the shower and a kitchen sink! I did have the fridge and stove with me in my old place, but counter space, an actual showerhead, fans, and hot water in the kitchen are all NEW to me as of this past June! I thank God every day for this blessing because I feel safe, my rent is about $300 a month, and I can walk to and from work everyday.
Before June, I lived at Barack Obama Estate (yes, you read that right). While I was fortunate to find it three years ago when I moved in, the infestation of roaches, the constantly clogged sewer drain inches from my back door, and the irritable Maasai warriors became too much. However, when I wasn’t trying to speak enough Swahili for the Maasai to understand or killing unwanted bugs with Doom (local Kenyan bug spray), I loved parts of the house: the small, quirky closet under the stairs, the pieces from Target that I insisted were necessities, and the cheap adhesive hooks that were the only permitted way to hang things on concrete walls.
Though the smoke from the jiko, a small, local charcoal cook stove, that neighbors and I used was overwhelming, the smells that wafted in and out of my house were mostly good. The upside to close, nearly on top of each other, community living is that someone is always watching out for you and your house, and someone is always ready to give an egg, a flashlight, or a shovel. The downside, which affects our students even more so than me, is that there is always someone watching you and your house. People are in each other’s business all the time, and while the joy of neighbors laughing is sweet, hearing every word of their fights can be heart-breaking.
In my new place, there are a lot of people, but we seem to have more space. (Personal space is such a western value and one I can’t easily shake.) Right now, as I’m typing this, I hear a boy playing outside shouting, “AAAAAHHHHHH,” and I just gently told a little girl to go home in Swahili. The joy of community living in my new place is that I have someone to complain to when the power goes out for the 100th time in a week, and the downside is that the neighbors’ kids see your door open and come stand in the open door to stare at you as you blog.
I love the stove in my apartment because three burners are gas and one is electric. I had never seen such a thing until 2011 when I began shopping in Kenya. Why such an oddity? Why do these fly out of the store as fast as people can buy them?
The longer I live here, the more I understand the beauty of this odd, yet genius stove. In the corner of town where we live, there is only one government-run electric company. No competition to challenge. No real mandate to keep service running smoothly. There are lots of tea breaks and not always a lot of electricity. There is so much I don’t understand, but, what I do know is that in EVERY place I’ve lived the power goes off regularly. It seems that in different parts of the city, consumer’s issues are different. In the fancy part of town, when the power goes off, it stays off for a few hours. At the Barack Obama estates, it didn’t go off so often, but when it did, it was off for 16+ hours at a time. In my new place, it goes off just about every day, but is only out for an average of 15 minutes. It’s crazy. Who knows what’s really going on behind all this?
What I can assure you of is the effectiveness of my stove, because when the power is off, I still have three burners. I may have to risk the injury of charring my hand to light them while invisible gas floats around, but they still work. Therein lies the beauty and genius of my stove. Whatever happens, I keep going. No need to skip dinner, cook on gas and eat in the dark. Gas runs out, cook on electric, slow and steady. When all is running smooth, use both!