Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's all coming back to me now

I had been meaning to blog more about Africa earlier, but working Rogers Cup tennis for 7 straight days basically took up all my time. It was eat, work, sleep, and lots of transit. But, I did manage to make some professional gains. It was my first gig as a bug operator for CBC, which means I was responsible for putting the scoreboard and stats in... and updating it too! This means I really needed to understand tennis, and after 4 days of actively watching it, I managed to figure it out :)

But back to the topic of the day: Africa.

I've already given you an overview of the trip, and I do plan on going into more details about some of our visits, but I think it's also important to understand how different the worldview is, or, as it turns out, how similar life in Kenya is to life in Canada.

Things that are the same... but not

* Slowpoke! *

Ya know how when you're driving, and the car in front of you is driving at a snail's pace and you just wish they'd change lanes and let you pass? You're gonna flash your high beams, aren't you? Well, in Kenya, they do that too! It's not a big realization, but it definitely showed me that some things we believe apply only to our culture are actually more universal than we think! And in East Africa, you don't get deer or moose crossings, but cow crossings. One time, our matatu nearly hit a cow to try to get it to cross faster. It wasn't impressed. It moo-ed at us and hit back!

* The stars *

Well, they're not the same because we're in different hemispheres, but they are just as beautiful. The difference is that in North America, you see stars lower on the horizon, while in Kenya, you really have to look straight up. I had a blast hanging out at the outdoor lounge at the Serena Mombasa, lying back and watch these natural gems sparkle. One night, three of us even saw a shooting star! My first confirmed sighting, and what a sight it was!

* Media *

During our visit of the Nation Media Group facilities, I came to a startling realization. The more I listened and looked around, the more I was certain that while the media values, facilities and equipment are the same in Kenya as in North America, the East African newsrooms are evolving at a quicker pace. I believe that's because they're learning from our mistakes and successes. Basically, they're skipping the middle step, the trials and errors we made trying to achieve better quality and smoother content. Kenya is going digital this year. They're not in HD yet, but that's the next step. While here in Canada, we're struggling with upgrading from analog to digital because of the cost of the equipment, East Africans are at a natural equipment-replacement point and are able to purchase high end HD equipment as part of the renewal process. We tried to do it all too fast... We're in HD, but not true HD: True HD means that shooting equipment is HD, Audio is 5.1, transmission is HD, cables/transmitters are HD-capable, receivers and watching equipment are HD... If even one element is in standard definition, it's not HD. In Africa, they love gadgets. It won't be a problem to get people to buy HD TV sets, especially given that most people would probably be getting them as their first sets.

*Gender balance*

Most of the Frigoken factory workers in Nairobi were female. However, this was done by choice, not because of gender bias. Sure, women are detail-oriented and good with veggies, but does that mean they should be the ones assigned to snap the tips off green beans? The reason Frigoken employs mostly women is because this job allows them to provide a secondary income to their families. In some cases, it is the only decent job a woman with relatively little education can get in the city. And they make it easy too... The plant offers a drop-off daycare service in one of the adjoining buildings, and if I understood correctly, it's free! How many North American plants can boast the same? Also, many of the farmers in the village were women, although their husbands may own the plots.

Things that really are different

*The buses*
You've already heard the stories... The matatus run on a completely different system than our North American transit. It's more of a taxi-like system, regulated by the government to some extent in that drivers have to register their vehicles and pay some sort of fee. It's also like taxis because the drivers are absolutely insane. That's where the similarities end, though. Matatus are little white Toyota minivans/SUVs, often covered in all kinds of slogans and celebrity names. The most popular ones? Tupac and Obama buses. The slogans sometimes don't make sense... Why would an East African matatu driver decorate his bus to the theme of the Minnesota Wolverines? (No, not Michigan) Or "The Game"? Matatus decide to patrol specific routes, but pick people up and drop them off anywhere along that road or in that neighbourhood... And at the rate that these buses pass, you can probably get anywhere on time! Sometimes, you could see multiple matatus pulled over alongside the highway, trying to get people on board for the 2 Kenyan Shillings fair, which more or less converts to 2 cents.

*What time is it?*

In Kenya, you really can set your clock to the sun. Every day, without fail, the sun rises between 6:30 and 6:45 and sets between 6:30 and 6:45. It's absolutely amazing! You figure that's how villagers go by their day... So very impressive.

Nairobi vs. Mombasa


Nairobi is like any other metropolis: busy, constantly moving, full of people crowding the streets. In fact, it reminded me a bit of NYC. The only difference, of course, is the predominant skin colour on the downtown streets. But they're all in suits and briefcases, going about their day.


Mombasa, on the other hand, is totally a beach resort... Until you get to the main part of the town. There, you can definitely see the different levels of poverty, which are much more obvious than in the Nairobi outskirts. It's not just the shantytowns... From the moment you leave the Mombasa airport and until you reach the touristy beach resort, you can see the true face of East African poverty.

Those are just some general observations about my trip to Kenya. Next post? Coming home, and realizing how different life truly is from one end to the world to another.

Stay tuned...

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