Thursday, July 21, 2011

Worship at a Nairobi Gym

Watching the World Cup Final at the airport gate
It certainly takes leaving a place to appreciate the beauty of it.  While I was in Ghana I daydreamed of the magic of Oakland (three words you won't find together often), and ever since my departure out of Kotoka airport on Sunday, I have found myself counting all the things I miss about Ghana.  Even those little nuisances that tested me daily have somehow formed a big cloud of nostalgia for a place I know I can't visit again easily.

I remember feeling exactly this way last time, and trying to commit to memory every Ghanaian acquaintance of my five senses: the sour smell of my kitchen, the particular call of a bird that was always outside my bedroom window, the infectious smile of my security guard Adams, the men peeing with abandon on the streets, the ever present "you are welcome!" when entering a restaurant or shop or home.  As I write this I am actually trying to imitate the sound that Ghanaians make to emphasize a point or to indicate that they understand.  It's something like "eh-heeeeeh."  Not quite the same in a conversation with yourself in a Nairobi office.

The driveway to my apartment in Nairobi
I arrived here bright and early on Monday morning and was taken by a nice but quiet taxi driver to my flat and then the Grameen Foundation office.  Like a character from a Pinter play who has just woken from a coma, I am trying to remember everything I see in order to understand this new world around me.  I live in Rosslyn Hill, I work in Kileleshwa.  I'm not allowed to cross the street while talking on my phone, but drivers are allowed to talk while driving.  Illegality doesn't stop street vendors from selling papers and baskets and puppies on the median.  There is no shortage of malls or vegetables or foreigners.  A devastating famine is taking place not too far from here.  Hosts on the radio banter about sex and play songs with profanity at 8:30am. This is what I know of Nairobi so far.

I have three short weeks in which to understand how microfinance is working in Kenya and what challenges MFIs have in delivering their services, and what companies and organizations are engaging their employees in skilled volunteer work.  A pleasant discovery was that most microfinance institutions actually have websites here - quite a change from Ghana - and I am taking it as an initial indication that this region is ripe for Bankers without Borders.

Mosquito Bites:  No fresh ones, only scars.  Thank you, high altitude.
Best "only in Kenya" sight this week:  I began my temporary membership to the health club near my place by attending an aerobics class.  Once you've been traveling for awhile you get used to expecting anything, but always with questions in the back of your mind about what awaits you. Would the class be packed? Would it be difficult? Will people stare at me?  I opened the door after the class had started but the class continued without so much as a glance in my direction. Which was surprising, considering the tiny size of both the room and class.  Three Kenyans were bouncing around to the commands of an instructor wearing khaki shorts, Converse and some t-shirt saying something about X-rated. We lifted weights, marched around, threw our hands in the air, kicked our legs up, and groaned through ab exercises for an hour while we listened to techno gospel music.  Pumping my arms to "I will worship you" and "your Kingdom is worthy" was definitely a first for me.  I will absolutely be heading back tonight.

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