Moving between two cultures sheds a lot of light on what’s happening in each.
Since my last visit to Nairobi, the city has become almost entirely inhospitable to human life. Gridlock reigns as an all-day phenomenon. Thick masses of humanity surge through the sidewalks and streets – and I usually the lone white face among them.
The driving habits of Nairobians include every sort of illegal and just plain stupid or dangerous maneuver. My favorite is matatu drivers playing chicken with oncoming traffic in order to secure a ‘better’ slot in a line of clogged traffic. The driver might even be on the phone while doing this, with a stick shift no less.
I did accomplish most of what I had intended for this trip – preparing Baraka Center for self-management by the end of the year. The assignment of a woman as the new Center manager (a change planned and prepared for over many months) brought predictable push back, most disappointingly from a few women. The many members who came to offer thanks for the adult Ed or computer training program touched me deeply. Some incredibly enterprising women have built solid businesses that deserve investor support.
The most disturbing aspect of Kenyan culture is the erosion of initiative by the relentless sloppiness of government and public services. Too many have adopted a long-suffering attitude to, for example, extended power and water outages. The Center itself was without water for more than two weeks, requiring the purchase of water to keep in storage tanks.
Back home, I was astonished and aggravated by the fulminating infection of pop-up ads on the Internet. It seems so much worse than even a month ago. Even on WordPress, you now got to pay to keep ads off your blog.
A good part of being gone for a few weeks is the backlog of magazines in my mailbox, in particular The Economist, the best new magazine on the planet. With no TV, I was blissfully unaware of what was happening in the world, except for the incredibly inept handling of the Ebola epidemic. West Africa will take a long time to recover once this is over.
Being home is a great comfort. However, I wish I could un-know the resource disparities that plague the women of Kenya. I’m left to consider again how to engage my fellow Americans in the privileged work of sharing the wealth.