1. China’s Growing Presence in Africa
Ol Pejeta, the conservancy very close to Nanyuki, had a big (see what I did there? Not yet? You will.) visitor this past weekend. In fact, I was rather bummed I didn’t hear about this until after the fact. Apparently, Ol Pejeta has been active in developing an anti-poaching initiative. Pretty cool, right? Well, so cool apparently, that in order to support their initiative, they were visited by none other than YAO MING. Out of control. Yao was 10 miles from my home this past weekend in Rift Valley, Kenya.
And maybe one day, I’ll actually write an academic post about “China’s growing presence in Africa”, instead of just posting images of Yao Ming.
Speaking of basketball, I did my best to have the most stereotypical “expat watching sports” experience. I was determined to finally get the chance to watch USA Basketball, so I made the trek to one of the bars with a TV to watch the Gold Medal game. It was so cliché, on so many levels. First, when I got to the bar, soccer was on (normally I would be happy about this, but I was not to be stopped in my quest to watch USA Basketball. So after some negotiation with the bartender, I was able to get them to switch one of the TVs over. Normally when there is “football” on I am able to convince a Brit to come, but seeing as basketball wasn’t interesting to them, it was just me. And for two hours, I sat there, completely invested in the game, covering my mouth with my hands at every Pau Gasol dunk, expressing silent outrage at every Rudy Fernandez flop, and cheering on the American team, while literally no one else in the bar showed any interest. There might have been a time where I would be self-conscious about this, but I was too excited to see live basketball and too invested in the game to care.
3. When in doubt, offer them beverages.
This has been an important lesson I have learned in recent times. When you have no idea how to handle a social situation, and when language is a barrier, just offer the other person a beverage. I have now employed this twice, and successfully for that matter. Once, when I was in Loiyangalani, sitting under palm trees at a camp, waiting for a training to start, I was talking with a North Kenyan who is a driver for CARE. We talked for a few minutes, then it became abundantly clear we had nothing to talk about. After an awkward silence I asked, “do you… want a Coke?” He said “sure,” I bought one for each of us, he offered me some bread, and we talked about CARE for a while. When I saw the same driver later in the trip, he gave me a big hug and we talked more for a bit. Social situation saved by Coca-Cola! (If you’re reading this blog and want to sponsor me Coke, I guess we could figure something out, you know. I can continue talking about how great Coke is and how it is the response to all social situations. Just let me know.)
Then this weekend, my security guard (who doesn’t speak English, and lives in Northern Kenya) showed up at our house here in Nanyuki. I invited him in, and asked in broken Swahili, “are you here just to visit us, or do you have work here in Nanyuki?” which was met by a long explanation in Swahili I did not understand. After a pause, I asked “do you want chai?” and he responded “Ndiyo” (indeed). So I made tea, and apart from a few efforts on my part to speak to him in Swahili, we drank in silence. I think he was satisfied with this outcome though.
So perhaps, in the future, whenever there is an awkward social moment, I should apply this technique. Like on dates. “Oh, I see. You want to be a journalist? So the comment I just made, about how people like Nick Kristof can just say whatever they want without having to do real research and how their work isn’t actually rigorous, probably wasn’t exactly what you wanted to hear? Ah. Umm… do you want some tea?” I’ll have to try it out next time.