Friday, February 27, 2009

Lorngosua, Part 1: "This Is Africa"

After four days of doing nothing but reading and watching presumably bootlegged DVDs at the ICROSS base in Nairobi, I went back into "the bush" for another five days. I thought I was going for only a couple of days, but apparently, in Kenya "two days" means "five days." Oh well. As I've been told several times...T.I.A. "This Is Africa." I returned to "Maasai Land," this time staying with the nurse at the clinic in Lorngosua. I had stayed there for five days the last time I came to Kenya, so I was familiar with the location and some of the people. I recognized some of the kids and some of the adults, but they didn't remember me. If they said they did, they eventually realized that they were thinking of a different mzungu. Apparently, all white people look alike to non-white people. I know that generally people of a certain ethnic group find it difficult to distinguish between people of a different ethnic group. But I thought Caucasians had a leg up because we have a wider range of hair and eye characteristics than those of African, Arab, Latino, or Asian descent. Apparently not!

Nonetheless, people still warmed up to me (especially the kids), and I had a wonderful week. It was a little easier in some ways than my week with Johnson because there wasn't nearly as much walking involved, but I did many of the same things, like herding goats and spending time in the clinic with the nurse, Anthony. I actually helped at one point! Anthony asked me to prepare some medications for people. And on Wednesday (aka "Baby Immunization Day"), he let me give a polio vaccine to some of the babies (just two drops in the mouth). I was happy to actually DO something for a change. Up to that point, I had just been observing and absorbing the culture and my surroundings. Of course, that's very important, but I'm a do-er by nature. I need tasks to be completed.

I've also learned some Maasai, which is actually really hard. I learned in my psychology classes that as we learn language as infants and toddlers, our ears get attuned to the specific phonemes (oral sounds) of our mother language, and we lose the ability to hear phonemes that aren't used in our language but maybe are used in other languages. Does that make sense? Well, for the past week, I've been struggling because their "u" sound sounds an awful lot alike their "o" sound. The traditional Maasai greeting is "Supa?" ("How are you?"), which sounds more like "Sopa?" to me. When I try to say it like they do, people always repeat it after me as if I said it funny. I guess it just takes time to figure it out. Nevertheless, I still learned some Maasai. I know how to say "How are you?," "Fine," "My name is Bill," "What's your name?," "Do you speak English?," "I understand little Maasai," "I'm from America," and my personal favorite "I voted for Barack Obama." (More on Obama and Kenya in a future post.) That last one (Ategelua Barack Obama) got a warm response whenever I used it.

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