Dependent vs. Independent
In Kenya I am completely dependent. I need help and information from others to do everything. I spend my days asking for help. I am used to playing the other role. In my life in Cincinnati I am used to providing help for others, supplying answers, care taking. I prefer to offer help for others, and it makes me uncomfortable, at my age, to need others for every move I make in Kenya.
I am waiting for my driver to arrive. I am a punctual person. What does this mean? It means that I am ready 15 minutes before I need to be, ‘JUST IN CASE.’ And what do I do with those 15 minutes? I pace, I make small tasks, I walk to the bathroom again and check myself in the mirror, I double check the supplies I am bringing, I re-count my money, I prepare. It feels like being in high school again, like being picked up by a friend to go out, when cars were scarce and my need was constant.
In America I go where I want, when I want, and in Kenya I can’t. I have to call and hire a driver. I am dependent on the driver, and that makes me nervous, even though he is reliable and wonderful. But I am dependent.
How do I describe what it feels like to drive from Kenyatta University to Nairobi City Centre, a passenger in someone else’s car, driving on the wrong side of the road like the British, sitting in the front seat where I am used to being in charge, the driver, but having no steering wheel, the steering wheel in the hands of a stranger in what should be the passenger seat, who will spend the day with me as I do required errands for the Fulbright grant? His name is James, and he is wearing a Lion King baseball hat. He has no idea what The Lion King is, and I feel dumb trying to explain it.
It feels disorienting. Nothing I see out the window is familiar. We drive down the Thika Highway, a large road like an interstate, but wilder. There are vehicles that go very fast, and vehicles that go very slow, old vehicles belching black smoke, held together by cords, over-loaded with goods and people. There are always broken down vehicles ON THE ROAD, that need to be avoided with swerves and planning. There are speed bumps on the highway, and the entire flow of traffic is forced to slow down to go over the speed bumps. At these speed bumps, in the middle of the highway, are men selling newspapers, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HIGHWAY. And people running across the highway, between cars. People run across interstates here in Kenya and it is normal, and I am terrified. To be a pedestrian in this country is to tempt fate. Pedestrians have no rights or responsibilities other than ‘stay alive.’
What do I see out the window? – a field of goats
– a loose donkey crossing the road between cars unattended, or so it seems
– a woman in heels and a skirt walking on a path in a field, dressed for her day, but on a dirt path
– roadside stands, made of small unfinished logs, selling belts, clothes, sweets, rugs, furniture, and tires
-M-Pesa stands everywhere, electronic currency called M-Pesa sold on scratch off cards to use with your mobile phones
-a bar called ‘Comrades Inn’
– laundry hanging everywhere, from everything, on every building
I am thankful that James is driving. Today I completed three errands: I went to the National Council for Science and Technology to apply for my required research grant, to the post office, and the Nakumatt. It took 5 hours. Seriously.
I am so grateful to be dependent on James. I bought him a 6-pack of Tusker and a Dairy Milk bar. Chocolate and beer as a tip, an extra. That is how I say ‘asante sana’- ‘thank you very much’.