Friday, February 27, 2009

Jars of Clay!!

So this past Friday night I went out to the Jars of Clay concert. At first I was debating if I should even go, since Friday is taco night, definitely my favorite part of the week. But we have taco night every week, usually, so how could I turn down a special one-time occasion like this for taco night? And then taco night was canceled, so I didn’t even miss it.

The concert was a lot of fun, and experiencing an African concert is quite different than an American one! I went with my friends Søren and his wife Charlotte, from Denmark, and then we met up with Njeri, who had a car and drove us the rest of the way. The official time was listed as 6-10 pm, which seemed pretty long to me, but I figured that opening acts would take up at least half the time. I was wrong: they took up the entire time. Jars of Clay didn’t start playing until 10:05 pm, and they only played for about an hour, until around 11:15. Of course, the concert didn’t start until about 7:20. We got there at 6:40, and they were still setting up the stage and didn’t look anywhere near ready. I got some food to tide me over until the end of the concert.

The purpose of the concert was AIDs awareness, and we learned that 1 in 10 Kenyans are not aware of the existence of testing and assistance, that 2 in 3 Kenyans are not aware of their status, that 3 in 5 of those infected are women, 4 out of every 5 infected do not know it, and only 5% of the budget is used towards youth prevention. I have no idea who’s budget.

All the opening acts were Kenyan, as far as I know, and the first several were not very good. The songs were highly unoriginal and the music was not very good. There were so many opening acts, one list I saw had 9! But they got increasingly better, and by the time we got to the last 2 opening acts they were quite good, and people really got into it and were dancing all around. A lot of the music is heavily reggae influenced, and just sounds very African. The very last performance was the best. I learned that Eric Wainaina is the most popular artist in Kenya, Christian or secular, and I recognized some of his songs from matatus. Probably this had to do with the time, but by the time Jars of Clay came on a number of people had left, and there was not quite as much energy as there was before. Jars of Clay was good though, and I recognized several of their songs even though I don’t listen to them much. I actually saw them play a concert this summer in Wheaton where they were the opening act for Steven Curtis Chapman. That was a great concert as well.

Afterwards we wanted to go out for Ethiopian food, but it was midnight by this point and all three Ethiopian restaurants were closed. So we went to a club that Njeri used to frequent in her younger days but had not been to for a while. It was interesting, and the food was really good. I had a steak, for almost a third of what I pay in a month for my eating group. I didn’t get to bed until almost 3, so that set me back sleep-wise for a few days. But it was fun, since I don’t really get out a whole lot it was nice to have something to go to. A Jars of Clay concert in Kenya.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

NEGST Politics: Running for Student Council

Since my arrival here at NEGST, I have noticed that the student government here, called the student council, seems much more useful and powerful than my previous experiences with student government. Members of the student council are obvious leaders on campus, and they are much more in touch with the inner workers of the school and student life in general. As I considered my involvement at NEGST, the student council seemed a good way to get to know the school and other students better. Thus when I was approached to run for secretary, I agreed.

Elections are being held tomorrow, and I am running against a second year student I have actually not met. There are only 3 contested elections for the 11 positions on the cabinet, and mine looks to be one of the closer one. I’ve heard different opinions: one of my friends (currently on the council) is optimistic I will pull it out, telling me “the stats on the ground are with you,” but I’ve heard from two others that it is very close, so I’m curious what will happen. Obviously I don’t really want to lose, but otherwise its not like a huge deal, and I don’t plan to campaign much if at all. We’ll see what happens. According to another of my friends, my opponent being Kikuyu has the “Kikuyu coalition” behind him, but I have the “international student block” behind me, as well as most of the “first year block” as well. I’m not sure people vote in those categories here, but maybe he’s right. Definitely a different mindset than I’m used to. American politics are analyzed according to demographic, so that’s the same, but not tribe. It is an interesting introduction to NEGST politics, if perhaps not representative of African politics in general.

I’ve had a few people comment on differences between American and African political styles. I gave a brief speech to the single group when we met this past Thursday to watch a movie, and someone asked if the rumor that I won’t be back in September are true, and I replied that it is true, I will possibly (likely) take a year off to work. When I was asked to run, I was very upfront about that, which means if I win (and I find a job) I would only serve half a term and then they would have to replace me in September. Someone commented that in Africa, you wouldn’t say that, but American’s are much more open about those types of things. I have also had several people tell me that all I need to do for campaigning is pass out brown envelopes to everyone. Clearly they’re joking, but obviously there is a reality behind that as well. I suppose if I get desperate enough, that would be one way to contextualize myself for African politics…

Monday, February 9, 2009

GOOD Kenyan Food

In the past, I have been quite negative about Kenyan food. I am pleased to report that I have found a Kenyan dish that I think is delicious, and has no American equivalent. It’s a Kikuyu dish (Kikuyu is Kenya’s largest tribe) called mukimo. It looks like green mashed potatoes with bits of corn in it, which is almost exactly what it is.

The ingredients of mukimo are green maize, pumpkin leaves, Irish potatoes, and (sometimes) green peas. These ingredients are boiled, and although I took notes on how it is made, they are slightly confusing and I can’t quite figure out what should be boiled with what. It appears the Irish potatoes should be boiled separately. I’ll try to take the time to watch how it is made so I can make it myself. I’ve been meaning to do that with ugali and chipati as well but I haven’t gotten around to it.

The first time I remember having mukimo was at the Fun Day put on by the student council last term to welcome new students. We had a ton of food, of all different kinds. More recently I had mukimo at the Tamu Café, a little place on-campus that serves lunch for very reasonable prices (usually less than $3), and I had it with mbuzi choma, which is goat. Goat is pretty good, although I have found it very tough to chew, and my mouth is always sore afterwards. It was also served with kachumbari, which consists of chopped tomatoes, onions and dhania. Dhania is their name for cilantro. Basically, this combination of food is amazing. Goat I could substitute for another meat if goat is not readily available, although I do find something cool about eating goat, but this meal is one I would like to add to my future diet. So far the only Kenyan food I have any interest in adding to my future diet. There you have it: a good Kenyan dish.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Swahili and I.T.

Last term I was fairly busy, getting used to being here, keeping up with people back home, but pretty much with classes. This term I decided that I really should not spend all my time doing that, so I've been trying to spend more time doing other things. I worked in the I.T. office last term as well, but I've been a more consistent about going in to work this term. What I do is very flexible, basically I show up on my own time and do whatever there is to do. It's best when I have projects to work on, like last term I documented the network (as far as I could). This term it looks like I might be helping out with the website, so we've been getting familiar with the software we'll be using. I would love to be proficient enough to design a website, that would be sweet.

I have also started studying Swahili. We started an informal class that meets twice a week for an hour, and I also arranged for 2 hours of tutoring a week (one hour of tutoring costs more than twice as much as the entire month of class). So I have Swahili for an hour a day Monday - Thursday. If I'm intentional about using it, I could use it all the time: my hallmates speak Swahili, the guys I eat with speak Swahili, when I buy bread at the Tuck shop on-campus, checking out books from the library, most of my friends in class, at church, maybe half the songs we sing in chapel, when I go shopping outside NEGST, in the matatu, basically all the time. I'm familiar with most greetings now, some basic verb construction, and a little vocabulary. Here's a brief lesson:

Ninasoma Swahili.
I am studying Swahili.

You attach prefixes to the verb to indicate person and tense. Ni means I, na means present tense, soma means study. Nilisoma means I studied. Nitasoma means I will study. Unasoma means you study. Mimi is the first person singular pronoun, so to emphasize that I'm doing it, I could say, "Mimi ninasoma Swahili" (I myself am studying Swahili). Just like Greek, where the verb includes the person but you can also add a pronoun. I would love to actually be conversational in another language. If I work hard, it is definitely possible. Until next time. Kwa heri (good bye)!