By Muskan Chopra | KF18 | Kenya
Last week I stood at the Equator in Kenya’s Rift Valley, one foot in each hemisphere, and thought to myself – is it really possible that water can circle clockwise in the southern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere, just 20 meters apart? Can two such opposing forces of nature occur side by side?
Perhaps the Coriolis Effect is a myth, but I am convinced that opposing traits of human nature coexist beautifully in this country. Known to be one of the most unsafe regions in the world, Kenya faces a deep economic and social crisis. After having my wallet stolen within the first 5 days of landing in Nairobi, I can attest to that statistic. But in the thick of fighting inequalities and corruption, working hard to protect its own heritage, Kenya offers what one would least expect…
LOVE. Topped with a large serving of warm welcomes and hospitality.
Seems unreal? I thought so too…
OBSERVATION #1: Kenyans love to hug..
… give high-fives…
… and if you’re lucky, they may even kiss you.
OBSERVATION #2: Somehow you remind them of their daughter, neighbor or friend. And you are treated accordingly.
I asked the lady sitting next to me on the bus – “Any chance you can show me which stop to get off at for the Matatu to Nyeri?”
Lady – “Are you new here?”
Me – “I landed in Nairobi 2 days ago. First time in Africa!”
Lady (takes out her phone and texts someone, then turns to me) – “I have one meeting in town. But I have cancelled. I will get off at KenCom and take you to the Matatu. It’s left.. then right..left.. right. You will get lost.”
I’m completely astounded, but not complaining.
After dropping me to the Matatu stage, negotiating with the driver, and making sure I was comfortably seated, she asks for my number. The New York skeptic in me said no, but I give it anyway. What’s the worst?
At exactly 2pm, when I was meant to reach Nyeri, I get a phone call. My new friend asks, “have you reached ok? I just want to make sure you are safe.”
The taxi drivers in rural Kenya that drop me to Matatu stages, knowing I am traveling far distances, never forget to call to check if I reached my destination safely. If they don’t call when I was supposed to reach, they apologize, as though they failed to be a good father, neighbor or friend.
I could get used to this.
OBSERVATION #3: Despite all the challenges, Kenyans are extremely proud people and are excited when you are proud of them too.
After +15 Matatu rides, very few things surprise you. But when you sit next to a lady and her chicken, it’s bound to raise some questions.
And so I asked..
Me – “Is that your pet?”
Lady – “No no no! I have a chicken farm, you see. I have 15 chickens and for 2 years I raise them. Feed them.. give them nice place to stay. Then they grow big. I say, ok, I need to take care of my children so I have to sell you off hah. So like that, I take one chicken at a time in the Matatu to the market and try to sell. My husband you know, he doesn’t work. He is LAZY. So I say ok, I take care of the family (big beam on her face.) Would you like to buy this chicken? Only 1,000 shillings.”
Me – “I would love to, but I don’t think I know what to do with it. But I am really proud of how hard you work to support your family. I can pay you some money and bring my friends to your farm. You can give us a tour. Show us what you do.”
Bessy, another new friend, has my number.. stored hers on my phone as “Bessy Chicken.” She will be hearing from us soon.
Muskan Chopra is a Kiva Fellow, working in Kenya this summer with Kiva Partner Faulu Kenya. Find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow or just more information on kiva and microfinance in general on kiva.org.