Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kisii, Part 2: Honestly, who steals a mosquito net?

The "roads" are so bad in the small villages outside of Ksii that the only way to visit HIV/AIDS patients in the field is to go by motorbike (i.e., dirtbike). So I spent several hours on the back of a motorbike. It was usually a lot of fun because the Kisii landscape is made of hills and hills covered with green grass, green trees, green maize, and, most beautiful of all, green tree bushes. The tea leaves are a dark green near the ground, but on top the leaves are this beautiful, luminescent yellow-green. It's stunning. But the bike rides were also quite painful and terrifying at times...

One day, Malloy and I were driving on the motorbike to visit some patients when we turned a corner and the car ahead of us was stopped and surrounded by a group of 20 or so men. Going too fast to stop, we couldn't pass them on the right (people drive on the left in Kenya, a former British colony) because a car was coming in the opposite direction. So Malloy had to try to pass the car on the left through the crowd of men, but the men didn't move, and we basically ploughed into them. Even though the bike's handlebar left a HUGE scratch on the car, I'm sure the driver was thankful we arrived. Apparently, the men had been trying to mug the car (!), demanding--unsuccessfully--that the driver roll down the windows. Fortunately for the car (and unfortunately for us), we created the diversion it needed to drive away unmugged.

Now we were the mob's center of attention. All of the sudden, men were pushing me and pling at my helmet and backpack. But I didn't feel anything because my helmet was on tight, the hip belt on my backpack was clasped around me, and I had a down coat on to shield me from the dust (and apparently an angry mob's blows). And the bike was so full of mosquito nets and boxes of rice and beans that I couldn't have gotten off the bike even if I had wanted to. With Malloy and I impenetrable to the crowd, the men went after the nets and food instead. But again, the food was so tightly packed that they couldn't open the boxes. They demanded to know what was inside. Malloy took his helmet off--a big gesture--and explained to them in Kisii--another big gesture--that we were carrying nets and food to HIV/AIDS patients. They then asked what the mzungu ("white guy") was doing, and Malloy told them I was there to help and to learn.

They really appreciated Malloy stopping and giving them the respect to talk to them. Next thing I know, they're patting us on the shoulder, packing mosquito nets back on to the bike, and helping Malloy put his helmet back on. O fcourse, I had no idea what was going on. Men were shoving me and then 60 seconds later, they were patting me on the back and saying "pole" ("sorry"). It all happened so fast.

Thanks to Malloy's smooth talking, we drove off unscathed, losing only one mosquito net from the whole ordeal. Meanwhile, I was left asking myself, "Did that just happen?"

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