Friday, February 13, 2009

My whiteness may just be skin deep, but that's still pretty deep...

I am currently in the city of Nakuru in a cyber cafe near the Nakuru ICROSS office. ICROSS is currently researching simple, effective ways to disinfect water. In many small villages in Kenya, people share water with their livestock, so water-borne diseases (like dysentery) are rampant. One thing that ICROSS has discovered is that by leaving a clear bottle of water in the sun (which is REALLY bright here) for 6 hours, all the dangerous microbes are killed. The UV rays and the heat work together. It's so simple! (There's more information at the ICROSS website:

So yesterday, I visited a small village where several people were using the water bottles to disinfect their water. I was with two other white people in a rural village. Needless to say, we stuck out a bit... All of the village children were following us and shouting "mzungu!" (i.e., "whitey!"). Then we'd turn around and pretend to chase them, and the kids would laugh and run away. At one point, some of the kids wanted to hold my hand, and one little boy kept rubbing my arm, fascinated by my pale, white skin. I think he thought that the white would rub off. Nope. I've tried.

It was also weird to be in that village because everyone there was so incredibly hospitable and welcoming, yet other villagers had been kicked out during the post-election ethnic violence last year. (History Sidebar: For a very long time, members of the Kikuyu tribe--the biggest in Kenya--dominated the government. But in this past election, there was essentially a tie between the incumbent Kikuyu president Mwai Kibaki and the opposition candidate from another tribe Raila Odinga. The results were disputed because there were accusations of voter fraud. The country was then in an uproar, and all these tribal tensions that had been dormant suddenly and violently came out in the open. Neighbors that had been friends for many years were beating each other and burning each other's houses because they were of a different tribe. Things are kinda back to normal now. You could say that the lid is back on the pot, but things are still simmering. Something like this might happen again during the next election.) In the village I visited, we saw homes that had been burnt down, and we heard stories about people being kicked out of the village. It was so unbelievable because the people we met were so nice and so poor; why would they kick out their neighbors when they knew they didn't have any place to go? Clearly, it's hard for a Westerner to comprehend tribal identities. Not that having a strong tie to a tribe is just cause to kick someone out of their home. But aside from that, the people were great.


  1. I'd hate to think that she came down
    with amoebic dysentery or piles.

    What's amoebic dysentery?

    It's an infection in your tummy
    where you get diarrhea for ever.

    Diarrhea for ever!

  2. Bill, this is Ken, and you are probably the bravest man I know. You Rock, white man!!!! --Ken Sauer

  3. That is really cool that leaving the water out in the sun kills microbes. And I LOVE that the kids follow you around and you scare them :)