While the rest of the family went back to Nairobi, I wanted to spend another night in Kitui. Since it was Christmas and there wasn’t any room at the grandparent’s house, I spent the night in Kitui Town at a hotel called Talents Guesthouse.
At first I was apprehensive. Downtown Kitui is not like downtown Washington, DC. Or Nairobi for that matter. But to my surprise, the hotel was actually quite clean, mosquito free and really quiet. Just a block away it was one huge party, people, mostly teens and young adults, all over the place, music blasting, people everywhere. One street over and it was quiet. I would’ve ventured out there, but I was worn out from being stared at all day already.
Though the hotel was nice, it had it’s peculiarities. When I noticed the complimentary flip flops, looking like a hundred people had already worn them, I passed on them. The bathroom was interesting too. It was a shower, with the standard wires wrapped around the shower head and running down the wall. The wires connect to something that heats the water, which requires a wall switch to turn on. All I kept thinking about was how electricity and water usually don’t mix.
And then the drain hole — for the water from the shower with no shower door, curtain or anything [it’s just a shower head sticking out the wall] — was on the other side of the bathroom next to the toilet. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick up on this before brushing my teeth and flooded the bathroom, as it’s designed to be. Considering there was no way I was going to put on the used flip flops I pushed all the way under the bed, I brushed my teeth wearing a t-shirt, my boxers and Timberlands.
Outside, there was this rooster [from the video above] reminding me the sun was up. While I waited for Nduku’s dad to come scoop me up, I took a stroll through Kitui town.
I’ve never seen anything like the advertising campaigns in Kenya. Instead of just billboards, and Kenya has some of the world’s largest billboards, Kenyans paint entire buildings. You’d think this was a Coke regional headquarters, albeit a small one, or where you go to get Coke and only Coke, but it’s just a shop painted in that globally recognizable Coke red.
And I thought this was the local radio station. Well, maybe it is just without the 10-story antenna common back home. But it’s probably just the local radio station plastered on just another building.
I was told that to preserve the trees, to discourage people from chopping them down for firewood, the government told people not to use firewood. So, they started using charcoal. Unlike in America, charcoal in Kenya is made by chopping down trees and burning them until they’re charcoal. Problem unsolved.
In Machakos, when I saw all those chickens being sold to the restaurant I decided not to eat at, I come here and see anyone can just buy a chicken to take home and make their own chicken sandwiches, chicken soup and buffalo wings.
Last time I was here, I saw this and wondered what German food tasted like in Kitui. But they were closed again. One day I’ll have a schnitzel in Kenya, assuming Stuttgart Restaurant is a German restaurant.
Want to shop? They have shopping centers, too. Not as big or glamorous or expensive looking as back home, but a shopping center nevertheless.
Kitui has a relatively large population of Muslims. I heard the call for prayer throughout my time there.
“Downtown” is where all the stores and shops are, but I couldn’t figure out where the people lived. Unlike our downtowns, Kenyans don’t tend to build with a work-live-play theme to their buildings. But I go around the corner and there is a maze of humble abodes surrounding downtown.
To put in perspective the strength of the dollar, or the lack of value of the Kenyan Shilling, I went to the market looking for some fruit. I’m not a big fan of the Kenyan breakfast foods. The bacon is really ham, the sausage doesn’t taste good to me [I can hear all of Nduku’s friends tossing their arms in the air sighing in disbelief] and remembering those chickens, I decided to pass on their eggs.
So, I see some bananas and ask the lady for two. It was just me and I’m not going to eat more than two bananas. She looked at me funny. I wasn’t sure if she thought, like most Kenyans when they see how generous our servings are in America, I was being greedy. Or maybe she wasn’t sure I should be eating locally grown fruits for some reason, the way I had to stay away from the tap water.
When I asked how much, she wanted to make a deal. How about three bananas for 20 bob [I could never figure out why they call shillings bob]. That’s roughly 7 cents a banana! It cost me 69 cents for one banana at the local 7 Eleven. I could almost get 10 bananas here!
Maybe, now that I think about it, that look was at how cheap this American was being!
While meandering down the street, one of the shoe shiners kept soliciting my business. My Tims were a bit dirty and dusty, so why not. We talked a bit, he and some of the others asked questions and I’d answer them. Most people thought, seeing my camera and backpack, that I was a journalist and wanted to know what I was reporting on.
I started to notice when I asked them a question, no one would answer. I wasn’t sure if my questions were offensive, they were just shy or what. They’d ask what was life like in America. I’d answer then ask them about life in Kitui. How long have they lived there? What did they do for the holidays? Why was it so damn hot all the time?
It took a moment, but I got it figured out. Though we were all speaking English, English being an official language in Kenya, because of my ‘Murican accent, no one could understand me. Not only did they not understand my questions, they didn’t even get my answers and said nothing.
I had to slow down my speech, enunciate my words and butcher my vowels for anyone to understand me. But we eventually got there.
I showed them the photos from visiting Nduku’s family and they recognized almost everyone. Kitui’s a small place.
Later in the morning, I had to go to the bathroom. I went to the Naivas, a 3-story grocery store, asking for the restroom. Here we go again. People simply didn’t understand me. I mean, how slow do you have to say r-e-s-t-r-o-o-m to be understood. I tried b-a-t-h-r-o-o-m to no avail. Wash closet? Kenya was a British colony so I even asked for the loo. Literally, after several people, either no one understood me or were waiting to see me do the pee pee dance.
I dug deep into my brain and came up with chuu, the Swahili word for bathroom. Only, it’s not an easy word for me to say like them. It sounds like chew-uh when I say it. Then I’d say choo-oooo. Chuh-uh?
Finally, someone threw up a finger, asked me to follow him up to the third floor and pointed towards the wall. I was thinking, maybe he means the bathroom is behind the wall, only there were no doors, no way to get behind the wall. I felt my leg wanted to cut a rug to keep everything inside my body. I looked at him confused. He pointed again. I looked at what he was pointing at in front of the wall. He thought I was asking for an umbrella.
I had met a Luo [Barack Obama’s tribe] earlier, a guard whose English seemed better. I asked him and he recommended a restaurant around the corner. I went there, went through the same list of words that no one seemed to answer, only the waiter I was talking to seemed to not understand any English at all, I assumed, since he didn’t respond to me in English at all. The others at least said, “I do not understand,” not realizing there’s a contraction for that.
Finally, I spoke in the universal language called charades. I imitated I was taking a piss. The light bulb went off and we were making progress. Since he spoke no English from what I could tell, he started playing charades as well, pointing to the back, speaking in Kamba, waving his arms, doing what he could to direct me to what seemed like the other side of town.
Noticing my blank stare and concern of wetting myself in the restaurant, he just pointed to the back which I thought was leading to the kitchen, but like many other places we visited, it leads out the restaurant where there are hallways and entryways to other buildings and a shopping center.
Aha! A random door in the middle of the wall. I could feel drops of piss ready to burst out my body, I grabbed the handle, yanked — it was locked! How the hell do you say, “do you have the key?” in Kamba!
I started walking back to the restaurant when I heard a few knocks from the door. It sounded like there was a lock on the other side that was knocking against the door from how hard I yanked at it from the outside. Looking at how it was designed, with no one around, I decided I was just going to keep yanking as hard as I could until the door opened. The door wasn’t locked on the outside and since it sounded like the padlock on the other side was loose [it’s hard to explain this, then again, I was half-delirious at this point so maybe it makes no sense at all], I gave it a massive tug. I was going to rip this door off its hinges.
And then, miraculously, the door opened with no issues. Wide open and this dude came out, looking at me suspiciously, speaking clear English, “I knocked.”
Having no time to explain that in America we just yell, “yo!” or “occupied,” or “chill out,” I just flashed an embarrassed look, looked at the bathroom as if I needed his permission to go in, got it, and finally, my goodness, finally I found relief.
Come to find out, when I have to use the bathroom, I need to ask for the toilet!