Closing Up Shop

Wednesday is my last day here in Nairobi, and I’ve been trying to get as much in as possible. What’s more the Internet has again been patchy around here, so I apologize for my delay in posting updates.

Saturday I attended a Deaf-hearing Kenyan wedding which was a cultural experience to say the least. It went for two hours, which tested my capacity to sit for a while, but was a lot of fun to see how such ceremonies are conducted elsewhere. There were ten attendants on each side (yes, ten) and both the bride and the groom’s parents accompanied them to the stage. In addition, there were elements of a regular church service including music and a sermon. Of course, it all concluded with a reception full of food, dancing, and gifting.

Sunday I cooked a pot of Chili for the Deaf here to give them a taste of the States, and had chocolate chip cookies a la mode for dessert. Having to improvise without a working oven, we “baked” the cookies on a cast iron skillet, but nothing could stop the Toll House recipe from winning some stomachs. We had a good time enjoying our last weekend together.

I’ve also tried to cram in as much touristy things as possible, and have had the wonderful presence of some other wazungu to share the experiences with. On Sunday, the ex-pats met up for dinner at Simmers, an open-air place in town, and today we saw the National Archives (which might more appropriately be called the African Archives), the Kenya Sign Language Research Project, and Bomas of Africa, a show profiling the dancing traditions of Kenya’s various tribes. We had a good time, but I’m spent.

That’s it for now. I’ll be taking a lot of pictures before I leave as my last hurrah (as long as my camera behaves). Stay tuned.

The Dark Continent

Why is Africa called such, you may wonder? Because power outages are frequent, unannounced, and long-lasting. For the last three days, we’ve been in the dark for all of the business day and sporadically during the evenings as well. It’s quite eerie for mzungu to go to bed in pitch black darkness, but TIK – this is Kenya!

I managed to get by box from the post office just fine, and the weekend proved invaluable for shopping, meeting friends, and enjoying my last few times out in Nairobi.

I managed to get a taste of Tusker, Kenya’s ubiquitous beer, a brew that is quite sweet compared to what we’re used to in the States. The Cellar is a nice restaurant just down the way from DOOR that I enjoyed in the company of some fellow Americans – Peace Corps volunteers, retired PCVs, and others working in Kenya’s deaf sector.

Sawa, well as I am paying high charges for my Internet connection now, I’m going to sign off early. Peace.

The Third Time’s A Charm

Okay, so what have I been up to in the last week? Let me check my notebook for some good stories.

I’ve been seeing some great parallels to what I’ve learned and read might be happening in foreign Deaf communities – especially ones that have contact with American NGOs. Unfortunately, time and my obligations to the IRB prevent me from detailing these observations, but suffice it to say that I’m glad I’ve come here to get my hands dirty in research.

I finally met up with Nickson, a Deaf Kenyan who just moved back from Washington. We caught up briefly last Saturday and made plans for lunch on Wednesday. We went to an awesome restaurant called Carnivore along the lines of the Brazilian churrascaria. Native meats are skewered and roasted over a large fire and brought to your table for stuff-your-belly-full goodness. On the menu that day were chicken gizzards (which were quite good), ostrich, lamb, and the traditional American meats as well.

I’m sensing that Nairobi will test any American’s patience bone, as schedules here don’t really mean the same thing as they do in the States. KSL shows time largely through indicating a position of the sun, and Kenyan culture embodies such a time gradient very well.

A few of us had some Ethiopian food last night which was tasty and reminded me a bit of my trips to Indian with Sheena while we were still on the Farm. A large communal tortilla-like rice-based flat bread is topped with minced meats and various vegetables and eating is done with the right hand. Reaching across the table is the appropriate way to eat, and ensures you get a taste of everything – and did I!

So regarding the title of this post, I have a story about Kenya’s postal service and how I’ve tried to retrieve a package I had Mom send me. DOOR received a call slip in their PO Box alerting me that the package had arrived, so I set out for the main post office with the slip in hand. Of course, when I got there, I had somehow lost the slip and the tracking number with which to locate the package. The first post office I went to was only for letters and I was redirected across the city to the package sorting facility to find my parcel.

I arrived there and explained my predicament to the clerk who told me that there was little I could do. I didn’t really believe him and pressed to get a more complete answer. Eventually I found myself in a cage with seven workers typing away at machines that had keyboards but weren’t computers (I think someone called it their “typewriter”) and writing records into steno books. Yes, steno books! There’s nothing digital going on here. Hah! I was told that I had to get the USPS tracking number and come back (tomorrow) to search for it that way.

Well “tomorrow” was today and I found myself again at the package sorting facility surrounded by tracking clerks, only this time I was thumbing through the steno books, trying to locate the record of the receipt of my parcel, so that someone could pull it off the shelf. Success was had at last (or so I thought) and I opened the box for the customs folks and got an invoice for 225/= (not even USD4) in tariffs. Of course, as luck would have it, the bank where I have to pay the tariff was closed for the day and I couldn’t leave with my box in hand. I’ll head back on Monday to complete the transaction.

Lastly, I tried to head to church for a youth conference but couldn’t get on a bus in the right direction – in the hour I stood in line, only one bus came to pick up passengers.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Tomorrow is going to be an early day of shopping with my Burundian metrosexual Christian friend. I can’t wait.



I was at the mall the other day and was thinking about how slow the nights here can be, and was prompted to buy a deck of cards. Most of the students had never played a card game before, so we started simple with Spoons. Well, let me tell you that now, all they want to do once dinner is over is play a good long few matches of Spoons. Students that were formerly hermits of a sort have managed to come out of their shells to expose a competitive nature that is friendly but fierce. Good fun, indeed.

This week has been well, with little news to report on. I’ve been authoring some experiments that I will administer this weekend, and will be returning to ICC this Sunday for some familiar worship. Tomorrow might be out on the town with Kevin, a friend of Julie’s who is working on a KSL-learning text. I got to sit in on a meeting with the director of the KSL Research Project today, which was nice fun to debate how spoken language linguistic theory applies to signed languages. Yes, I’m a nerd, but at least I don’t substitute oft-confused phonemes for fun 🙂

I’d love to be able to stay here longer for a variety of reasons, but am also ready to head back. It’s a tough dilemma. First things first, though, I’ve got to finish the Master’s degree that I started.

Okay, my contacts are drying up and, as it’s past the time that the office normally closes, I shall go. World Peace.

Mmm, Token Spaces…

Yes, that’s right, Paul, I was drooling over Token Spaces, and why not? They’re oh so delectable despite being completely intangible and representing only a concept with no physical relation to any other space. And they’ve been popping up right and left around here, so I can’t help but think about them. It’s been amazing to me how the four sign languages used here at DOOR have so many of the aspects we thought were universal, making me confident that I’m getting an education based on more than Bob’s teaching whim (although that can be quite amusing).

So tomorrow is going to be my first filming day, which I am quite excited about. I’m going to get the citation forms of the Ethiopian manual alphabet on video, and perhaps set up some other situations to see what contact phenomena pop up. I’m sure my musings will take form once I see how things progress the first time around. I’ve still got almost a full month here, so I’m not too worried.

My allergies have progressed to level orange (ie. TERRIBLE) as determined by Michael Chertoff, who reminds me to be diligent in keeping my nose spic and span. Unfortunately, that has meant that I’ve had to turn down going to a jazz club this evening, but hopefully I’ll be better for tomorrow. It’s Kevin’s birthday, a friend of the illustrious Julie Hochgesang, whom I met by happenstance as he came to DOOR to use the recording facilities just yesterday. It seems we have a lot to talk about in the realm of combining linguistics with social action – I can’t wait.

It’s Friday and the weekend is here, so I’ll keep this post short. Expect some good pictures for next time. Until then, peace.

Getting Out in the City

So as you all know, I am quite the city boy: having grown up in LA, gone to school in the Bay Area, and currently residing in Washington, I’m used to the hustle and bustle of crowds and streets. Unfortunately the first few days of my experience in Nairobi were within the confines of the teaching center which, although quite nice, made me yearn for a chance to escape even more.

Thursday brought my first adventure past the DOOR gates into our neighborhood of Hurlingham. (As it was my first time out, I didn’t bring my camera along, but will do so as the excursions become more comfortable.) Yaya Centre is just down the street, a posh towers and mall complex that reminds me of London in price (yuck – see entry below), with the local Nakumatt just past that, a chain of stores that compares to a Super K-Mart. As I didn’t bring any money along, we just looked at what was available, with the knowledge that the fast-approaching weekend would bring some good shopping.

Saturday brought my first exploration trip to Nairobi’s CBD with a visit to the craft markets frequented by the Wazungu (white folks) and an exercise in haggling. As I had a Burundian along to help me settle on some fair prices, I managed to leave with some good snags for under $10.

On Sunday, I hailed a cab and zoomed down to ICC for church. Unfortunately the American pastor with whom NCC has a connection had to be at home packing for a plane trip that day and we didn’t get to meet up, but I had a great time nonetheless. Their church is going multi-site just after I leave, and they’re preparing for that with marketing and fundraising campaigns at the moment. I met with the Executive Pastor afterwards and a fashionable Kenyan named Vicki who invited me to join the young professionals group while I’m in town. I look forward to doing as the Kenyans…

Back at DOOR, I ran into some more Burundians and headed out for some more shopping, back towards Yaya and the Nakumatt. Food was first on the list, as there is no lunch service on Sundays around the teaching center. The produce here is fresh and cheap – good enough for me. I also managed to snag a Ritter Marzipan in the sweets section as a reward for getting into the city. The same market we saw just the day before had relocated to Yaya and upped its prices to match the middle class clientèle. However, as I now had six Africans to support my haggling practices, I managed to walk out relatively unscathed with some awesome Kenyan souvenirs. They guys were absolutely great – hiding me until it came time to pay, when the merchant knew that he had been had and tried to up the price at the last minute. They knew they’d get the next whitey, though, and didn’t give me too much trouble.

Paul, the center’s director, came back from Thailand today and gave me a warm welcome to the center. I’ve already got a list of questions for him a mile long, and hope he doesn’t get sick of this white kid before I leave.

Speaking of sick, I’m wondering if I don’t have a little something coming on – there’s been a tingle in my throat and I hope I don’t get bedridden with something long-term. Also, my dreams have been extra vivid recently thanks to the wonderful drug Mefloquine, the anti-malarial that I’ve been popping once a week. Let’s hope they don’t get worse.

In parting, I would like to note that coffee is my friend. Many of you are intimately aware of this fact, but I feel it should be stated for the record, as I had neglected to enjoy a cup for my first week here and finally picked some up while shopping on Sunday. Certainly instant isn’t my bag, but I’m grateful for the pick-me-up of a good jolt of caffeine in the mornings that it brings and will press on until I return to Europe, the land of people who steal coffee from Africa but make it taste oh so good.

Until next time, Peace.

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.

Having Fun in London Town

Okay folks so I’m a bit late on the update. It has been a heck of a couple of days full of good fun; hence I’ve had no time to check in.

London was a great time for sure. I arrived early Saturday morning to Heathrow which was just as much of a mess as everyone says it can be (and I’m used to LAX!). My hostel wasn’t ready to accept me at 10 am but I took a shower and left my things for later, heading out on the town to meet up with Joe’s friends. I stopped into Starbucks for a quick dose of caffeine and got back on the tube with my day pass in hand (at £5.15 it was a great deal compared to the £4 one-way – for those of you playing along at home, £1 roughly converts to $2).

First stop was Buckingham Palace which I thought was a bit like the White House – you stop by and realize there’s nothing to do, then keep walking. Of course, I happened to arrive during the official anniversary celebration of 54 years since the Queen’s coronation, and tons of people were camped out on the surrounding lawns. There was no mention of this, and I chalked it up to wacky Commonwealthers not being able to get enough of watching the Palace for signs of life. Certainly nobody would do that in the States, but there seems to be something in the water across the pond here.

Next was Westminster Abbey with its gaudy tombs and shrines. I guess it was nice to see where such greats as William Wilberforce is buried and it certainly wasn’t something I would have missed, but the £7 price tag brought a sense of disdain for the Sterling, and pride that a city such as Washington is so entirely free.

I met James at the prescribed time of 1 pm and we walked towards the London Eye while munching on our sandwiches. A scoot back across the Thames took us to Trafalgar Square (where something happened a long time ago) and Covent Garden (where rich people go to shop for brands that are cheaper in the States). Through SoHo we trekked, stopping to have some water on the hot and humid day in the city (apparently I brought the warmest of weather with me – so much so that half of the city was shirtless).

I quickly understood why so many say that I’d fit in well here – the look in London is put-together and slim. I’m not sure what I think of some of the fashion choices, but I can appreciate the dares for what they’re worth, and the much more standard fit of clothing than one might see Stateside.

I went home to take a brief nap before heading to dinner and clubbing with James and company. Dinner was great – a vegan place called Maggie’s that had a great choice of dishes – and clubbing was wild – who’dathunk that there’d be great Latin dancers hanging out in London. I climbed aboard a bus to get home and, with the help of two local women, reached the doorstep in good time (4 am).

The next morning was late and I had to hurry to change my room from a booking snafu. I “chucked” my stuff into the new room (according to the Aussie at the front) and grabbed some more Starbucks to perk me up (pun totally intended). It was another beautiful day out and Hyde Park became my oasis in the city on the way to the Tate Modern. Unfortunately, I arrived just a few days too early for an exhibit showing a timeline of photos of the world’s big cities and how they’ve grown (LA being one of the featured), but browsed through the free galleries with a smile on my face. Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, and others were on display in the permanent collections, housed in an incredible old warehouse. The Design Museum down the street was also a stop, but left a bit to be desired – oh well, I had to see it anyway.

A half-hour walk landed me at St. Paul’s, the gem of London (if perhaps only from the inside). The halls are adorned pristinely but I unfortunately missed visiting hours since I was there on a Sunday. I didn’t feel appropriate going to the upcoming service in what I was wearing, so my stay was brief and not photographed.

Back at the hostel, I met my new roommates: a cool kid from Buena Park, CA and Kay, a Johannesburg transplant who was reading The Purpose-Driven Life (which I just picked up to read during my time in Nairobi). We didn’t talk long as I had to get some rest before arising at 6 am the next morning to get on my flight in time. Some more congestion at Heathrow and not hearing my boarding announcement in the BA Terrace Lounge almost got me in trouble, but I managed to get on my flight in time and safely here to Kenya.

This post has become much too long to detail anything that Kenya has shown me, so I’ll save that for tomorrow. Things happen both quickly and slowly around here, so I’m excited for what is to come – I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Until then, Peace.