1. Time and timeliness
Time is kept by hours of daylight. Since the sun comes up at a reliable 6 am that is hour 0. If someone is meeting you at 6 that really means noon. Which brings me to the other point: being on time is subjective. People are often late for appointments (and, since exchanging cell phone numbers is considered a must-do) you can then call and confirm if they are, in fact, coming. The problem is that any time you ask “when” the answer is “10 minutes”. We are almost there! 10 minutes! Just so you know – not 10 minutes. Likely an hour. Perhaps more.
If you’re white they will speak to you in “tourist”. They use words that they wouldn’t use with each other. And you will be welcomed to Kenya all. the. time. Even if, like The Boss, you have been here for 7 months and speak decent kiswahili. They will greet you with “Jambo!” but to eachother will say “hujambo” (one is just the word “matters/problems” while the latter is a question “any problems?”). Sometimes they will throw out a “hujambo” as a test – if you answer “jambo” you’re tourist bait – if you answer “si jambo/no problems” you’re in. Well, as “in” as you’ll be as a tourist with minimal melanin. They also say “hakuna matata” all.the.time. To us. To each other it is “hakuna shida” which means “no problems”. Apparently matata=chaos and Timone and Puumba need to brush up on their kiswahili translation.
3. Food service
Restaurants often have very long menus. If you order something they will do one of two things: either tell you that they dont’ have it while you continue to play a guessing game about which dish on the menu they actually will prepare for you (hint: it is likely cabbage, fish and ugali) OR they will tell you that they have it only to return an hour later – after your stomach has eaten itself – to inform you that they have not prepared anything while your table mates are happily chowing down.
Examples – we went to a fancy restaurant. Our pizzas took about 1.5 hours to arrive. Hi-C and I had both ordered the same pizza and I jokingly said “if only one comes – I get it!”. Woops. Jinx. Only one came. After I sat for 15 minutes longingly watching others eat (somehow Hi-C got the one pizza) they informed me that – oops- the chef forgot my pizza.
-We stayed at a lovely eco lodge this weekend. Hi-C and I decided to get lunch there because they offered “grilled chicken with banana sauce and coconut rice”. Woot! There were only 3 items on the menu so I imagined that I was golden. However, when he took our lunch order (at breakfast) he informed us there was fresh fish from the river. No thanks, I’ll still have the chicken. And you could see the fear in his eyes. Sure….the chicken….riiiight. We got a phone call an hour or so later informing us that there was no chicken – fish then? Fine. Fish it is.
4. The Telephone.
Sometimes I question why I bought a cellphone here. No one can understand my accent over the phone. People who speak English very well and I could have very detailed an informative conversations with in person are hopeless at understanding me over the phone (and yes, I can usually understand their accent). I have been trying to track down information about ABR testing* (and just any hearing testing in Mombasa) for a client. My first few attempts were by telephone but not one person could understand “hearing test”.
Do you test hearing??
Ears – hearing – do you test it?
Hearing tests? For babies?
Do you do them?
Nothing – Sorry maam, I’m just not getting you.
It is so bad that I have resorted to actually going to the hospital myself to inquire. Which, of course, brings up a whole host of other issues. But this post is getting long and ranty. I should point out – I really do like it here!
Just to be a good sport: an example of when something goes awesomely right.
We headed to a nearby beach where a few young Kenyan men have started a nature conservation area + snorkeling! For 500 shillings (about $6) you get a knowledgeable tourguide (also very attractive) who knows many scientific names for things and snorkel gear. While the tide was low we walked among the pools checking out the nifty creatures and then headed for the water as it got a bit deeper. THIS was incredible snorkeling. The water was low enough that we swam with the fish, had to swim between the corals and often brushed up against the seaweed.
giant puffer fish (2-3 feet long!)
clown fish (nemo)
a variety of sea cucumbers (including the long sticky purplish strands they spew if disturbed)
starfish (grey ones with bright red designs, brittle stars, cushion starfish, a 20-armed spiky monstrosity)
an electric ray
So many other lovely fish I can’t name them
The only downside was my own fault – I applied sunscreen but 4 hours in the water washed it away and left me burnt from ankle to butt. Ouch!
*Auditory brainstem response testing – it is a method of testing the function of the inner ear to determine amount of hearing loss in infants and toddlers primarily.