My First Days in Nairobi

I arrived in Kenya to a familiar sight – an international airport just about the size of Bob Hope Airport (and perhaps just about as modern). My travels through Latin America left me expecting little in the way of amenities, and I’m not really here to lead a posh life anyway, right?

George picked me up just as planned and we zoomed through the dark streets towards DOOR. I briefly met with the participants (from Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Zambia) who kept asking me if I was tired – perhaps I looked a bit more worn than I felt. That was even more apparent when I hit the sheets and was out quickly.

So far, I’ve spent some good time with the Ethiopians and Burundians, noting some striking similarities in their language to ASL (especially the Burundians with whom communication is almost flawless once I translate my fingerspelling to French). The language contact patterns are awesome, as well, with marked influences of KSL showing up in the groups’ translations. Words especially likely to show interference are MAN/WOMAN, WANT, GOOD/BAD, TELL, and numbers, and initializations change easily as well depending on national languages. The Kenyans and Zambians seem most distant at this point, but it is still early on in the game.

The meals have been simple but filling and the tea is delicious (although packed with sugar – more than even I am used to). A simple starch is usually accompanied by beans for protein, and meat is a special addition to the mix. The students are curious to know if I’m alright with the food, but forget that ours has been largely influenced by African traditions. Cornbread, flat breads, french fries, stewed greens, and bean dishes are quite standard and delicious when a little salt is added.

Yesterday, we visited a deaf school in the area – an interesting adventure to say the least. We took two matatus (read “buses”) over 40 minutes westward from DOOR and walked a few steps to the nicely kept government school where the children reside, their parents paying for food and housing. The school is run by many hearing (only two deaf employed) with an American SEE pedagogy. We met with a science teacher who flailed his hands about as if it meant something while speaking a long string of words. His fingerspelling was placed as far above his head as he could hold his hand, and he often looked to me for approval even though I held no position of authority in the room. We had gone to the school to teach at the extracurricular Christian Union, but the teacher described how we would have to wait another week for additional approval.

It seems the school system here is as flawed as what locals believe the rest of Kenya’s government to be, and the disparity between rich and poor is obvious. What’s more, the faculty firmly believes that English is the answer to Deaf’s and Kenya’s success, as well as their salvation; certainly that isn’t what we know to be true. On the plus side, however, the school looked well-maintained and a safe haven from the surrounding shady neighborhoods. It is located in an affluent equestrian area called Karen that largely caters to local Wazungu (white people). Even more encouraging is the students’ abilities with signing clearly in KSL. It is said that the dorms are havens for KSL and where the struggles with SEE are dropped in favor of a language native to the heart and hands.

I confirmed my trip to International Christian Centre (a church here headed by a Wisconsinite) today and look forward to my visit on Sunday. The following Sunday will be back at a Deaf school which should be fun as well.

That’s it for now. I’m excited for the research and exploration that is ahead of me. Until then, Peace.

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