Thursday, 1 May 2008

Living Conditions

I have been meaning to write this for a long time, but life has grabbed me by the throat and kept me in the real world - that is the world of having to work, rather than writing blogs.

While I was in Kenya in March, I lived with Kenyans, ordinary Kenyans, in their homes.

So, where to start? I suppose, with my living conditions in the South of England.

I live in a large bungalow in a small village. Our property backs onto the lands of an ancestral home, so it is calm.

The bungalow has the usual central heating, lighting, telephone line, fitted kitchen, bathroom, shower room, three bedrooms and two living rooms, two TVs - it is a "normal", middle class abode. I have a car, not new, but reliable. I have two computers and a laptop, all permanently connected to broadband.


My first stop in Kenya was Kisii, where I stayed for 10 days with friends, Vincent and Abigael. They live in a rented two-bedroomed bungalow comprising a sitting room, kitchen, wet room and the two bedrooms.

There is no electricity or running water and the toilet is a deep-pit latrine 20 or 30 yards from the house.

Most of the garden is for growing food and Vincent has also bought a second plot adjacent, to grow more.

I felt rather guilty as, being a guest, I had been given the "good" bedroom. I shared it with one of the kids, Josephat. Everyone else slept in the other bedroom. This suited Jojo, as he never strayed more than about 3 feet from me the whole time I was there. He has decided that I am his Baba Mzungu (white Dad).

Lighting is by kerosene lamp in the main room and by torch or candle anywhere else.
The kitchen is a room with a couple of low work surfaces, no running water and no cooker. Cooking is over kerosene or charcoal.

Water is brought up from the river every day by a water carrier and has to be boiled.

Internet connection is out of the question, so collecting emails, etc., involves a trip into town to visit one of the many cyber caf├ęs.

The wet room is just a room with a small hole in the wall to let out water. Having a wash involves heating water in the kitchen and carrying it into the wet room in a bowl.

Despite being a "soft" European, I survived. No - more than that. I actually enjoyed my stay there. I happily put up with what I saw as deprivation. OK, going to the loo during a downpour was a bit of a pain, but hey! This is Kenya!


The second leg of my stay was far more "civilised". I had arranged to use an apartment in the village on the coast, sharing it with my girlfriend and her two children.

This apartment comprises a massive living room with dining area, a kitchen with a combi cooker (two gas rings, two electric), although the electric part is not connected, and a fridge/freezer, a bathroom with a bath with shower, "real" toilet, basin and running water (only cold). The bedroom has a king-size and large single bed.

There is electricity, although only one power point in each room. There is also a TV in the living room. The whole is finished off with a large, east-facing balcony.

Few of the windows are glazed. It is not necessary, the temperature never falls below 20C. They are all covered with mosquito-proof netting.

This leg of my stay in Kenya was luxury - a real shower, a real toilet, a real kitchen. And then, of course, I was with my girlfriend!


The third leg was in a suburb of Nairobi. My friend there has a four-bedroom terraced house with a front and back yard. It is in a gated estate with security guard.

The house comprises two floors. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and a bathroom, the ground floor has the living room, kitchen, wet room, a guest bedroom and with access from the front yard there is the fourth bedroom. Normally this might have been the domestic quarters, or workroom.

The kitchen is basic, but does have electricity and running water, although it is not advisable to drink it.

The wet room has an "Asian" toilet which flushes, a basin and a shower head, again giving only cold water.

Cooking is over kerosene or charcoal, but every room has electric light, as long as the supply is working!

This was very comfortable, and I could happily live in this house, but it was not as "comfortable" as the apartment on the coast. Nor would I particularly want to live close to Nairobi.

Given the choice of the three places I know, I would settle in Kisii - the coast is just too hot.

This stay in Kenya, particularly Kisii, reminded me of just how lucky I am, living where I do.

But even the house in Kisii would be considered luxury to many Kenyans, who live in small traditional mud huts under thatch, not through choice, but because they can afford nothing better.


Anonymous said...

I grew up on latrines … I mean I grew up using latrines for number 2 and anywhere for number 1. For the slow ones, I grew up deep in the village. I used to go to school barefoot, with no vunda every other day (tulikuwa tunashare na bro …), and torn shorts and shirts … and a protruded belly … tulikuwa tunasukuma ugali na sukuma kila wiki …tungali … PSYCHE …

I used my first modern toilet at the “tender” age of …ummm … 9 or 10.

That was when I was shipped to boarding school for the first time. I remember looking at that thing and wondering “just how do you use this thing?” … granted the HOLE was bigger than the kijiji ones, but it was also HIGHER up … it was impossible to assume my village position!

But as y’all may (not) know, the village endows you with plenty of skills which are useful at problematic times such as those …


And CLIMBED … until I went to high school …

It took a harsh lesson to “STOP CLIMBING” … toilets that is …

You see, I ate quite well after KCPE. My first CLIMB in high school was the last one to-date. I climbed, and came down “mid-work” with the whole damn thing. Talk about shit hitting the floor … but I did learn the “methodology”

The other day, I mean many years ago, in a drunken daze, I walked into a “kibanda” and proceeded to order some samosas “to go” …

And go I did …

The kao-kyuk in me took over: Alas … I mean haraaa …

To make it worse, I was in my local church, working hard to stifle a nice nap that was threatening to muzzle the pastor’s Hallelujah … it was my punishment for spiritual insubordination.

So I dashed to the “recently dug” latrines. There at awaited my disaster. In no order, this is my list of complaints:

The HOLE seemed like the size of a cup mug opening

It was triangular – meaning your “ass-gymnastics” had to be pin-point

It was, quite literally a few inches from the door, meaning that your said gymnastics would only be perfect if your knees were outside the “shed” consequently implying the door had to be open …

The shed was 1 BY 2 or thereabouts in dimension … as if intended for dwarfs or something …

Dear Lord, amnesty It was a smear campaign …am nasty ...

Amnasty. Proud to be kenyan. Najivunia na wacha matusi kwa watoto wetu shoga wewe. Felt like you were in a Zoo.... Motherfucker

Dad Mzungu said...

Ha! That reminds me of an occasion in South Africa when I burst into my modern bathroom to find one of my foster kids perched on top of the "European" loo.
I called all the kids and explained the workings probably avoided a major incident!
The problem with latrines, for me, is that I have a bad back and "squatting" is an impossiblity. However, I have adapted and am now at ease when confronted by the once-dreaded pit.
No, the only thing I miss in Kenya is electricity to power my PC. Oh, and I miss the autonomy of my car. For the rest, I am happy to live "native".
If it is good enough for my friends, it is good enough for me.