Our intern Achintya is currently in Kenya! This is one of his recent blog posts, titled “Second Week with Zidisha”:
It’s the end of the second week, so I’m back to write about the things that happened and things that I underwent this week. In the course of this discourse you’ll hear me talk about the shrill cow, about business upstream and downstream, about the panga, about pineapple Fanta, about three year old stalkers and about nyama choma and hungry masais, not necessarily in that order.
This week I visited the little village of Mitimingi nearby. I was fortunate to get a lift from the ex-counselor of this area, in whose 4-wheel drive car I had a luxurious journey down. The roads here being what they are, the ex-counselor spent one full minute laughing when I said that the drive was a punishment for his car, all the while shaking his head and repeating “punishment for the car”. I guess the concept of employing punishment on an inanimate object is a peculiar one. Inanimate by definition means lifeless, unresponsive and what’s the fun in punishing something that doesn’t respond? It’s like having Steven Seagal as your psychiatrist.
In Mitimingi, Baba Joshua proposed that we try Nyama Choma, which literally means Roast Meat. Metaphorically too that is exactly what it means. So, after some discussion on our appetites (there were three of us) I decide to buy a kilogram of goat meat. At the meat shop, the boy (he looked quite young, 18-19 maybe, but in these parts you can never tell the age of a person, just like you can never tell the expression on Steven Seagal’s face) took out this huge sword like curved knife to cut the meat. Now those who know me will be able to predict quite easily what I did at this point in our story. I asked her name. I mean the knife’s. Her name was “Panga”. So I asked where I could get one and Baba Joshua promised to get me one in Mugaa (which he did by the way, the same evening. Of course I followed up on and pestered him).
After about an hour, the Nyama Choma was ready. We sat down around it with a few chapatis and dug in. That’s when Baba Joshua told me about the Masais. The Masais slaughter a goat and then they Nyama its Choma (or Choma its Nyama- I always get confused which is roast and which is meat) and then 2 or 3 Masai warriors sit around, like us, with their own knives, unlike us, and finish the whole goat, very very unlike us. Either goat is the name of a fish or three means a larger number in Swahili. I mean three guys eating a goat, in one meal! Come-on! How much time do they spend in the loo each day?
The next day I walked to the village of Kiptangwanyi. I don’t know how far it is, but I walked for two hours, up and down hills, with rubble like roads. Paul my friend and comrade, instead of encouraging me kept telling me stories of Lauren, the first intern here in Kenya. He told me how she could run all the way up. While I barely crawled. He told me how she got up at 6 in the morning for a jog to Mitimingi. While I wake up at 8.30 and jog my memory to remember where I’d kept the tissue roll. But I smiled in my mind and thought “but can she do 200 pushups?” Actually, I can’t either, but so can’t Steven Seagal, and what’s good enough for Steven Seagal not to do is good enough for me not to do as well! But frankly, my respects to Lauren. That trek killed me and I bow to anyone who could do it easily.
On the way, we crossed this small river. It was a beautiful seasonal stream, with clear water and the cool smell of freshness around it. We crossed it at a place where the stones were big enough to jut out of the water. Paul told me that the water was good enough to drink. I was quite thirsty and shoved my hands in the water and was about to drink it when I saw 2 cows, 2 meters upstream from where I was, doing their business right in the middle of the stream. It was an awkward situation, with my hands full of water and Paul encouraging me- “drink, drink drink!” I excused myself by saying that I wasn’t thirsty, and then went on to extract my water bottle from my bag to have a drink. I consider myself an amateur Anthony Bourdain aspirant, but it’s one thing to try frog’s legs arrayed around a ball of aromatic rice or to relish the tongue, cheek and brain of a baby cow served with crunchy French baget or to suck the jelly out of a beautifully cooked and exotically served fish’s eye, but to drink water being graced by a cow’s holiness right in front of your eyes…
On the way back, we stopped at Paul’s shop. That’s when I tried pineapple Fanta for the first time in my life. My excuse- I was so thirsty I couldn’t think straight. No I’m just kidding. It was quite good. I never saw a pineapple soft drink in India. I never drank a soft drink in France. So this was my first encounter with the yellow concoction. The only bad thing about the drink was that it made me want to smoke. Because I never repress my urges (I’ve been told it’s bad for the child in you), I bought a cigarette (yes one cigarette and not one packet- you can do than in Kenya, just like in India) from Paul’s shop and went on to punish my lungs. It was a great feeling- Paul’s shop is at some height in Mugaa- to sit and look at the setting sun, with beautiful blue sky, dotted with small snow white clouds, cool breeze caressing my hair and skin and the smell of wood fire and food cooking in the air. I could see laughing people walking back with their cattle and women shopping at the little green grocers’. Old men sitting at the tea stall, sipping ‘chai’ with ‘mandazi’ and gossiping.
I felt at peace.
I felt one with the bloody universe!
The day after I decided to repeat the whole “one with the universe” experience and went for a walk up to Mugaa center. It was afternoon and Baba Joshua’s cow Kairu (which literally means ‘black’, guess why!) was near the gate of the school. Now Kairu is exceptionally fond of her calf. She is very particular about the time at which the calf should be fed. Like all mothers she becomes impatient when her child has to wait. But unlike many mothers, Kairu does not sing well. In fact, I sometimes suspect that Kairu has elephant genes. She is black (surprise!) and big and has large ears. But most important, she shrieks like a banshee from Arabian Nights who’s in labor. No wonder I kept asking everyone if there were any elephants around. While all the time it was Kairu talking.
That day she saw me walking towards the gate and thinking that I’m Baba Joshua (yes we do look quite alike, despite the vast differences in our our heights, colors, faces, hairstyles and ages) started howling her miserable entreaties. The whole situation was sad, I mean the mother yearning for her child, but her voice is so shrieky I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. Kairu took offence and I had to walk rather fast to get out.
Mugaa primary school had just closed and I came across a hoard of three year olds outside the gate. After answering a hundred ‘how are you’s, I started walking up, but the kids couldn’t get enough of me. They followed me, laughed at me, called me names and scared the daylight out of me. Children tend to depersonalize the object of their mirth. Having seen countless ‘clown bashing in birthday parties’ videos on TV, I kept my fingers crossed and breath held. Only after I entered a teashop did I let my guard down (which, in my case, was palms behind to stop any kicks to my posterior). Damn the universe. I will feel one in my room.
There were other things that happened, other interesting people I met, other adventures I suffered, like meeting the fascinated watchman, scaring the angry dog, sniffing the poisonous tomato and other such incidents. Later.
Read more of his blog here