You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘africana’ tag.

I HAVE A BED. Sorry, just had to get the shouty excitement bit out of the way. In fact, I’m sitting on it as I type this! Sitting! On! My! Bed!

You don’t understand how momentous this is until you’ve spent 2.5 weeks sleeping curled up on a concrete floor with a mosquito net draped over you like a shroud.

I also have a dresser, of sorts – at least, it’s shelf space that will finally get my clothes out of my suitcase, and maybe some of my books out of piles on the floor. All I need now is some creepy posters of anonymous Asian children holding rabbits and my house will truly be a home. (If you’re not a K-PCV, that statement will not make any sense. Just roll with it.) I fully intend to spend this coming weekend in “nesting mode”: arranging things, putting clothes away, maybe finally mopping. I wish I were close to a Nakumatt – or, hell, a Target, since we’re talking wishes – so that I could continue my extravagant furnishing spree. A chair, for example, would be nice. Or a table. Or actual cooking knives: to date, any slicing and dicing requires me to bust out my awesome 6” tactical knife. This is badass, to be sure, but it leaves something to be desired in the “finesse” department. We can’t all be Bear Grylls.

This process of taking stock, sorting, replacing things that need replacing … it is not so different to build a home as it is to build a nation. If you’re left thinking, “Megan, that’s not only a stretch of a metaphor, but it’s also a non-sequitar,” BITE ME. I need a segueway to talk about the Kenyan Constitution. So there. For those of you who haven’t been following African politics, Wednesday August 4 was kind of a big deal. Kenyan citizens took to the polls for the first time since the contentious and ultimately harrowing general presidential elections of 2007. This time, however, they were not voting on specific leaders per se but rather upon the judicial framework in which they will be acting: Kenya was voting on a new constitution. The previous one had been written to accommodate the needs of colonialists more than the nation itself and was long overdue for an overhaul.

I won’t go into the details of either the constitution itself or of my opinions of it; thirty seconds on google should give you a reasonably clear picture of the former, and an e-mail request will get you the latter. This isn’t a political blog. (Mostly.) I am, however, happy to say that despite a great deal of nailbiting at Peace Corps HQ, the elections went by virtually without a hitch. There have as yet been no signs of widespread voter fraud or other electoral malpractices; similarly, both the process of voting and the acceptance of the results were peaceful. It’s a watershed moment in Kenyan history and – all’s well that ends well – I’m glad to have been here to witness it.

Advertisements

When I was in high school, we had school-wide assemblies every week, twice a week. Lame. I KNOW. The first one of the year was inevitably and without fail “the bookbag talk.” It was a cliché. It was reviled. It was naptime. But, as I’m beginning to ponder my new adventure, it’s … newly meaningful?

Our principal, Dr. Elizabeth Griffith, would place a series of variously-sized schoolbags by the podium. She’d say that now was our chance to unpack our fears, our prejudices, our stereotyping, our preconceived notions, and leave them at the gates. This would open up room in our baggage for new friends and new experiences and new beliefs and all the knowledge we could cram in. I don’t remember all the details, but it was a bit like the speech George Clooney gives in “Up In The Air,” if in reverse.

I am on the cusp of an enormous number of BIG GIANT changes in my life; I finished my thesis, I’m moving out of the country, I’m gaining new friends, I may lose some of the old (you always tell everyone you’ll stay in touch, but how often do you really?), I’m beginning to think about the rough and rocky path to my careeeer? And yes, I say it like that in conversation: extending the second syllable and pitching up the tone at the end as though I’m asking a question. Because I am, aren’t I? In some way.

I’m also packing up my life. Literally, and figuratively. My two best friends have already promised to help me pack my belongings (we’re ordering pizza, drinking wine, maybe making a slumber party of it – IT WILL BE EPIC) so that doesn’t worry me too terribly much. It’s only been today that I’ve begun to think about the “things” I’ll take with me and the “things” I’ll leave. “More than anything else,” a professor told me recently, “graduation is an opportunity to take with you all the good things you’ve gained and leave the bad.” I have no doubt the same can be said for moving to a new continent 8 timezones away. And so, in this spirit, I begin to take stock of my mental rucksack.

Leave: Vexation at the apathy of my generation.
Take: Knowledge that, hell, I’m certainly not the only person out there trying to change things. I know some awesome, competent, activist types. It only takes a few sparks to start a fire.

Leave: The epic frustration that comes with facing a problem so enormous as HIV/AIDS in a place so vast as Africa, compounded with the intimate knowledge of the failings of humanitarian intervention in general.
Take: Learning from others’ mistakes – if I can identify where humanitarianism fails, both as an individual and as part of a larger system, perhaps I can steer away from those courses. Or at least, do no harm.

Leave: Overthinking.
Take: Listening for understanding.

Leave: Worry that I won’t be able to maintain the friendships I’ve formed when I’m so far from twitter, facebook, e-mail, cell phones, text messages, and of course, immediate proximity.
Take: The love and memories I KNOW I’ve gained, which are mine to keep forever, regardless of what happens next.

Leave: Reliance on the familiar
Take: Openness to the unknown in the form of embracing the good experiences and accepting/processing the bad.

Leave: Naïve idealism
Take: Cautious optimism?

Leave: A-effing-dW, anthropological theorist, enormously respected scholar, primary resource for the giant term paper I’m currently finishing, and insufferable Africana know-it-all.
Take: My friend Nora; telling me that the circle of life does, in fact, involve me turning into AdW. Bless her.

Leave: Cynicism, doubt, ill-ease with systems and people and situations relating to East Africa, or to the media, or to the application process, or to the broader political world.
Take: The following little story – an anthropologist once told me about a time he had been driving on a stretch of highway running north out of Nairobi that’s INFAMOUS for police officers shaking down tourists, asking for kitu kidogo (“a little thing” – i.e. bribes to make imaginary traffic violations go away). It had been a bad day, or a hard trip, and he was sick of dealing with it; when he was pulled over and immediately thought, “God, this just takes the cake …”

When he presented his paperwork, though, the officer simply looked at him mildly and said “Congratulations, you’re the first car to have everything in order. You can go.” And like that, the straw that would have broken the camel’s back vanished entirely. And he was fine again.

“This is the thing about East Africa,” he told us solemnly, “is that you must be open to grace. East Africa is FULL of these moments … you spend a lot of time wanting to roll your eyes and going ‘Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse,’ or ‘OH GOD, HERE WE GO AGAIN,’ and then everything turns out in a way that’s unexpected and inspiring. If I can give you a message, let it be this: allow yourself to be open to and experience grace.”

And so I will.

I’ll even save room for it in my luggage.

This is a big year for sub-Saharan Africa. February marked the 125 anniversary of the end of the Berlin Conference, which initiated the imperialist “Scramble for Africa” and flung into place a great many of the continued (and not unproblematic) national borders still in existence today, among other things. More than a dozen nations are having elections, including Sudan, which is undergoing the democratic process for the first time in over two decades. A sitting head of state – Omar al-Bashir – has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes of genocide. A new hominid skeleton (aged more than 2 million years) has been discovered, further muddling the heated debate about just who the immediate ancestor of mankind is yet again. Also, I’m moving to Kenya, in case you hadn’t heard, which may not be continent-wide news but it’s certainly a big deal for some (and by “some” I mostly mean “me.)

Weighty though these events are, a great many people will tell you they are secondary in comparative significance to what’s about to happen in June.

Oh yes. You guessed it.

It’s time for the 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP.

I for one haven’t been this excited for a sporting event since … well … the 2006 World Cup, although that ended differently than I’d hoped. It had been my sincere hope to attend the World Cup this year or, at the very least, be in South Africa when it happened. However, as we’ve seen, that wasn’t in the cards – by the time the matches begin, I’ll be well and truly entrenched in Kenya. I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course, but still … if I could be in two places at once … *sigh*

Those who don’t understand football (read: the majority of Americans) may have slightly challenging time grasping the significance of this event, so I’ll clue you in to some of the basics.

1. The FIFA World Cup is an elimination event for which only 32 teams qualify. Qualifiers have been going on – literally – FOR YEARS.

2. Football – or “soccer,” if you prefer – is HUGE in the rest of the world. At the beginning of the last World Cup, I was in Bhutan, and it was pretty much the second or third question every single person asked. What’s your name, where are you from, WHO ARE YOU HOPING WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP???? This, in a country that’s technically (legally, at least) not supposed to have television. Or wasn’t. (There’s a very cute Bhutanese movie about satellite dishes and soccer, actually.)

3. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event IN THE WORLD – WAAAAY more than the Superbowl, the Winter Olypmics, or whatever that final basketball thing was that everyone was up in arms about. Almost 800 million people tuned in to the 2006 one. That’s almost 3 times the ENTIRE population of the United States.

4. This is the first time a World Cup has been held on African soil. Hell, it’s the first time an African nation was seriously considered in the runnings, to the best of my knowledge. In fact, all of the countries considered hosting this year (South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco) were African, but South Africa was the only sub-Saharan nation.

5. The only teams that have ever *won* the world cup are from South America and Europe. Wouldn’t it be a good year for an African cup winner?

6. Hosting the World Cup has not been without its perils for South Africa … but I think that’s a topic of such weight and scope as to deserve its own blog posting. Suffice to say for now that it isn’t an event wholly unaccompanied by dark challenges.

But on a lighter note … who am I rooting for? Well, that’s a topic for another post, methinks. I’ve no doubt that this is not the only post I’ll be doing on the Biggest Sporting Event Of All, partly because it’s IMPORTANT, and partly because it gives me something to ponder while I tread water waiting to leave (42 DAYS!!!!). Stay tuned. In the meantime, who are YOU rooting for?

Kenyan Flag

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
NOTE: If you choose this option, you MUST click the link in the "confirmation e-mail" after you sign up or you will not receive any further e-mails.

DISCLAIMER

The opinions expressed on this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps, the United States government, or any other organization. The author is solely responsible for all content on this blog.
Yours truly