Letter from Kenya (six)
It seems that every school child knows how to say “How are you?” It is a chant they do. A mzungu (white person, literally translated to “wanderer”) is on the street and all the school children immediately begin the chant “ouryou?” and repeat.
Yes, endearing at first, and perhaps I even responded, fine and you? when I first arrived. But now, I dismiss them, knowing that it is a rote response. But there are those children that actually engage – or attempt to – in conversation; the ones that smile coily, that are actually curious and looking for some type of interaction. I smile back at them, wave, sometimes shake their hands.
Often the school children follow you, especially in less populated areas. Are they protecting you? Probably just interested in the wanderers. Makes me wonder how I must appear to them. The westerner I am, “diversity” is something that I don’t really notice until it isn’t there. Furthermore, I was always taught “not to stare” or to ignore those that were significantly “different”. Here they stare, call out to you (yes, “OBAMA” has even been shouted to me, though I don’t think it was because they suspected that I was American).
The most charming account of this that I can share was on the bus. As I was sitting in the aisle near the middle of the bus, I made a point to check out all of my fellow passengers going by. Almost immediately after a mother with a baby wrapped in a kanga and another daughter by hand passed by, I felt a tug at the back of my head. I looked behind me, but all I saw were backs. The ride was uneventful, but at Kenyatta
Hospital (near the end of my trip and a very busy stop), I again watched the other passengers as they left. The mother passed by and at the same time I felt a tug. Promptly I turned to see the culprit: the oldest of the woman’s two daughters, no more than 7 or 8. I smiled at her. She bashfully looked away, and scrambled to catch up with her mother and younger sister.
Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).