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Ever want to feel like a giant irredeemable dork? First, put on your classiest business attire – the kind you wear when you’re going to meet someone very important for the first time. The kind that says “Respect me. Take me seriously. I’m here to rock your world – sustainable development style.” Then, put on a bicycle helmet.

Got that?


THEN, get on a bicycle – but not YOURS, oh no, because yours has a flat tire and you can’t find the pump. Plus, it’s a-hundred-and-Dante degrees and you’re not sure you could make the 10km one-way trip without collapsing in a heap in the middle of the road. Instead, you have to get on the back of someone else’s. They’re called “boda boda” or “bike taxis” around here, and for a modest fee, a tired old man on an equally tired old worn-out roadbike will pedal you most of the way to where you want to go.

Next, pick a point waaaay out in the middle of nowhere to visit, so you have ample opportunity to creak past screaming children and mamas carrying bundles of sticks on their heads. And every time you peddle past them, you must confidently say “HAMJAMBO!” in a tone that conveys “I’M HERE TO SAVE THE WORLD! LOOK AT HOW COOL I AM. You’re welcome, Kenya.

Jury’s still out on which maximizes the experience: riding astride like you’re on the world’s most dysfunctional bicycle-built-for-two or riding pillion and waving like a beauty queen on a parade float.

That’s how I started my morning today. Luckily, the work I’m getting to do when I get to That Distant Point makes it worth it. Or so the theory goes. When I arrived today at a local school, I thought I was there to meet with the faculty and set up times to do some student-run health club stuff (football games, etc) and maybe help another teacher introduce a Life Skills curriculum. When I walked into the staff room, the head teacher hurried up. “Thank mercy you’re here,” he said breathlessly. “Do you need chalk?” He saw me hesitate and tried his sell again. “We bought some. A new box!” He held it up proudly, his eyes begging me to take a piece.

“I’m sorry, I … um … uh … what?” I replied, demonstrating how articulate and qualified I was to work with his impressionable legions of young children.

“You’re the new mzungu teacher, right? Now, class 5 is about to start maths, but class 4 has English this period. You can choose which you’d like. We will schedule around you.”

The klaxon-alarm bells of AWKWARDNESS AHEAD started going off in my head. Apparently, the headmistress wasn’t there that day, and had given only the most cursory information to the rest of the staff. After some further discussion and clarification, it was agreed that I would co-lead the health club and teach the class 6 (American sixth grade) life skills class, all with an active and involved assistant, who would be ready to take over as soon as she felt adequately trained. Thus, I would simultaneously be getting interactive experience with kids (they’d get to hear English from a native speaker, I’d get to blog about their wacky shenanigans) AND training a trainer who would in turn teach the other staff how to conduct all that stuff. Imminently sustainable, endlessly entertaining. It’s win-win.

Sounds like a pretty solid opportunity to knock out goals one, two, AND three, if you ask me.

Even though I wasn’t ready to teach today, I was told I should at the very least introduce myself and the course(s). I could do that. I talked for a while about decision-making and growing into a productive adult and that sort of boring fodder for a while, then turned it back to the students. My teaching style is super-participatory, which sometimes clashes with the traditional Kenyan model, so I wanted to get them used to speaking from the get-go. I asked each student to stand up, state their name and where they’re from, then tell me something about themselves. Most used this as an opportunity to say his or her intended profession – teacher, nurse, member of parliament (o rly?), fisherman, goat farmer. When I got to the last girl, she rose shyly, avoided eye contact, and mumbled her words into the collar of her blouse. I approached her desk. Kneeling slightly, I asked her in a gentle voice to repeat herself.

Steeling herself, she raised her head and said in nothing short of a shout, “MY NAME IS AGNES, I AM FROM [VILLAGE], AND WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE THE QUEEN.”

Looks like Not-Italian’s got some competition.

I honestly have no right to complain. Compared to a great many volunteers, I’m pretty much in The Big City. I have to walk five minutes to get to a paved road where I can catch a matatu. Fifteen minutes to the fruit dukas. Less than twenty to the general store. But still, I yearned for more range and flexibility in my movements. This isn’t going to work when it’s a-hundred-and-screw-this degrees in December, I thought myself as I painstakingly schlepped home plastic bags of groceries by hand. What inspired me to buy three liters of milk, two liters of juice, five kilos of rice, AND a watermelon when all I needed was toothpaste?

So … I bought a bicycle.

Please hold your applause.

Before you start doing the mental math of Complete Clutz + Metal Death Machine – Seat Belts and Airbags = We’re So Thrilled The Doctors Said Megan Might Be Out Of Her Bodycast In Time To Celebrate Her Fortieth Birthday, I have a helmet. And BY GOD I WEAR THAT HELMET. And when I don’t, I WALK.

Want to get more strange looks than you ever have ever in your life? Step one: be a mzungu. Step two: walk your bicycle through downtown Malindi because you don’t have your helmet and therefore can’t ride it to the matatu stage. Step three: PROFIT. Someone even helpfully took me aside and offered to teach me how to ride it, since clearly if I knew, I wouldn’t be pushing it down the sidewalk. The logic breaks down slightly when one tries to figure out why I’d buy a brand new shiny awesome bicycle if I had no earthly idea how to make it go, but there’s no accounting for the mind of wazungu sometimes.

It is black. It is sleek. It is beautiful. It caused a small furor reminiscent of dropping a chum bucket into a deepwater trench inhabited by tiger sharks when I walked it past the tree where all the mechanic fundis hang out. And … it needs a name.

My iPod has a name – Sophanisba (after the enigmatic leopard lady of the 1914 epic Italian silent film, Cabiria)

My computer has a name – Krycek (after … well, if I have to tell you, it’s not worth it.)

Even the millipede who used to live on my ceiling had a name – Ronaldo (after Cristiano, because the image of a centipede playing football makes me giggle in a ridiculous and unbecoming fashion.)

SO! Here’s the part where you come in: got any suggestions for my new bicycle’s name? Put ‘em in the comments.

Maybe Alejandro. We’ll see.

Kenyan Flag

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Yours truly