Saturday, 28 June 2008

Getting used to Kenyanese

"Sorry!" When in Kenya, I hear this all the time, even when the speaker had done nothing to be sorry for.

I have to say that I am clumsy. I can trip over my own feet while standing still, or even sitting down - no kidding. And it is not the alcohol - honest - OK, not all the time.

So, I will be walking down the road and trip on a matchstick or whatever. "Sorry," my companion would say. It took me a long time to understand this. There is no real equivalent in English English ... er that is English as spoken in Great Britain.

Another one is "Yes" when we would say "No". Because the speaker is saying "Yes, I agree with what you are saying," as opposed to "No, I don't think so either."


But once I came to terms with these little nuances, I soon found that most Kenyans, even those upcountry, speak excellent English. And the kids in Nairobi speak better English than many kids here. They speak grammatically correct English - innit - and don't interject any "Y' know", "er", "like", and certainly don't swear - well, not in my company and not in English, anyway.

I sometimes wonder how a well-spoken Kenyan could possibly survive over here, where we beat up our own language until it is an unrecognisable pulp!

Ask a Kenyan kid "How was school today?" and the reply will be. "It was good (or bad). We did math, english and geography."

Here, the answer would be something like, "Er, well, y'know, it was, like, yeah, good. Innit."

And to think that I was considering bringing my girlfriend and her children over here! No way. I don't want to ruin their education - and their good grasp of the English language.

Friday, 27 June 2008

What does this mean?

Trawling through the hundreds of photos that were taken with my cameras while I was in Kenya (not all taken by me), I came across this one of Ben, a five year old Nairobi boy. I have seen this sign many times, both in Kenya and the UK. I didn't take this photo, so couldn't ask him what the sign meant, if anything.

Ben bears a striking resemblence to Tyler James Williams, the boy who plays a young Chris Rock in Everybody Hates Chris ...

... don't you think? (Ben is the one with hair!)

Water -v- Oil

Michael Grunwald, a correspondant for Time Magazine who has been commenting on Florida's attempt to restore the Everglades to their former glory commented, "There is an understanding that one day water will be as precious as oil."

I am sorry Mr Grunwald, but we can all live without oil, albeit with very different lifestyles, but try to live without water.

Water is the most precious commodity on this planet. We survived for thousands of years without oil, but we have always needed water.

Even in this modern age, there are still people who do not use oil or its products, but they need water every day. Needless to say, most of these people do not have enough water.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Getting about

I am always looking for new ways to get to and from Kenya, preferably quick, easy, cheap and comfortable.

But this must take first prize ...

Does this Nairobi bus really ply between Heathrow and Nairobi? Or is there a Heathrow in the Nairobi area that I don't know about?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Developed -v- Developing

I was sitting in a traffic jam on the Thika Road when a man cycled past me. His bicycle was laden with what looked like the steel rods used for reinforcing concrete pillars.

He crossed the road to his "shop", untied his bars and set up his gas welding kit.

That evening, I was passing back along the same road when I saw this man at the side of the road, in his shop. In pride of place was a magnificent wrought iron coffee table. I just had to stop and look.

Yes, this was made from the iron rods I had seen him carrying that morning. Yes, it wasn't finished - he was waiting for his friend to supply a sheet of glass to go on the top. Yes, it needed painting. But, on close examination, the legs were perfect, the scroll work was symmetrical, and this man used only a welding torch, a charcoal brazier, a large hammer and a length of steel railway track as an anvil. No drawings, no rulers, just his eye - brilliant, absolutely brilliant.


We needed cubicles for our new Internet café. I would be hard-pressed to know where to start in the UK, and would probably end up with ordinary office tables, with partition screens mounted on top. Not in Kenya. You go to the local carpenter and explain roughly what you want. A couple of days later, you pick up the finished product, which is perfectly made and ready for painting.


Our car broke down last September. The front disk brakes seized up. Luckily, we were in Thika Road, where there is a plethora of mechanics. I pulled into a dirt yard which was formed by a semi-circle of sheds serving as a body shop, spray booth, a mechanic, a greengrocer and a bar.

The mechanic came over, carrying his toolbox, comprising a hammer, a half-set of open-ended spanners and a lump of wood. He had an apprentice with him. The kid looked about 10, his overalls swamped him.

I sidled over to the bar where I sat sipping soda and chatted to the clientele drinking their breakfast beers. These were an off-duty tour bus driver, an off-duty policeman, a municipal worker taking a break for refreshment, and a "property developer".

I was soon relieved of my cigarettes and one of the men sent a youngster off on his bicycle to get more. Obviously I had to tip the boy.

90 minutes later, the mechanic told me that the car was fixed. We both jumped in and took it for a spin, testing the brakes. They worked.

I asked how much and he thought for a while. "Even if you are mzungu, I will only charge you 1,350 bob," he said.

I gave him Ksh 1,500 and he made a show of looking for change in his many pockets. I told him to give it to the boy.

The following day, I drove from Nairobi to Nakuru, Kericho, Sotik and finally, Kisii, then back through Narok to Nairobi. I don't know how far it was, but it was a long journey going up and down the escarpments, and the brakes never let me down.


I am sure that this sort of service and inventiveness can be found all over Kenya. To me, a visitor, it is astonishing to see at first hand these artisans working with virtually nothing to produce works of art, perfect furniture, or sturdy car repairs.

Here - anywhere in the "developed world" - you can get the same finished products, the difference being that most would be produced by machines. The workers are merely machine minders. They could not produce the coffee table, the cubicles for the Internet café without detailed drawings and a host of power tools. They could not fix the car without a workshop full of tools and a manual.

We, in the developed world have lost that ability to make things, to bodge.

What a shame.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

African Time ...

Silly me! There was I, expecting my new business to open today as I had been told. The lines should have been put in yesterday. But that is African time yesterday. Which apparently means today!

Still, the lines went in today, so we should be opening tomorrow. So, what's one day (or two) in the general scheme of things? This is Africa.

Unless, of course, African time is even more flexible than I remember.

Sitting on the fence?

From Daily Mail, 24 June 2008