Friday, November 03, 2006

The Time the Kenyans Found Out About Jamaal

When I did Kenya Part I, back in '03, I was a single gal. That wasn't a big deal or anything, and actually, I thought it was to my benefit - I was going to be gone for four months, and the last thing I needed was to be all involved with someone and then go all those many miles across the ocean and have to write them a letter a day to prove that I loved them. I was heading to Africa unattached and unaffiliated and ready to be HARDCORE!

Of course, by the time Kenya Part II rolled around, I had already been dating boyfriend for a year. Ok, not quite a year, but nine months, and I had known him for more than a year. The good thing was that instead of going over there for four months, I was going there for a mere 10 days, and I was convinced that the time would fly by so quickly, he'd hardly have time to miss me. I made him a little journal and wrote our itinerary in it, and added a little story about each of the places, so he could follow our trip. My friend and her boyfriend have a rather intense relationship and he made her CD's and she was carrying pictures of them and there were tears and fears and worries and stresses about her going to Africa. Jam wasn't like that at all. He knew I'd been there before and that I'd be among friends. Plus he knows I'm an independent-type lady. I sort of just gave him his journal and he gave me a kiss goodbye, and that was that. No tears or wailing or rending of clothing, just a "have a good time love." I liked that.

Of course, I added our picture to my foldable photo album that I've had since Alex gave it to me in the 4th grade. It's this pink photo album that looks almost like a full-size compact mirror, but when you open it, it reveals a foldable accordion of photographs. I brought this with me the first time around and carried it everywhere, my family and friends were always readily accessible, plus it was a very manageable way to show my Kenyan friends photos of home. I slipped the sexy shot of Jam and me on the way to his friend's wedding (though not the photo I have here, because I am an ass and don't have the sexy one uploaded). "The Kenyans will get a kick out of seeing me in a dress'' I thought.Oh I had NO idea what I was in for.....

The photo album didn't make a public appearance until the last night of our trip, when my friends and I were spending the last of our Kenyan shillingi on beer and hard liquor for the staff. The three of us took it easy as we were just getting past the horrible VD (vomiting diarrhea) sickness that we picked up at a safari lodge, but watching the Kenyan staff get progressively drunker was hilarious. They were getting, ahem, a bit friendly, maybe too friendly, when I finally brought up Jamaal. "You have a boyfriend?!" One of them asked. "Yes," I said, "would you like to see his picture?" The table nodded, and I ran back to my banda to get my pink foldable album.

Some of the staff members gathered around as I opened it, and as the accordion opened, one of them grabbed the pictures, pausing at the one of me and Jamaal. "AL-LEE-ZON!!! This is your BOYFRIEND???!!!!" Salaash shouted. He then looked around the room and said "laskdjfoaweijlasdkflskdflasdkfjlaskdfjlsdkjalkdflaksdfjalksowieruaosdfjls; sjdflksdfklsjf s a=d mingi sana" which means ".....a lot of swahili words I don't know but must mean something important because the staff is knocking over chairs to get to the table." Maraka ran over and grabbed the photo and his eyes bugged out of his head. There was rapid Swahili shot back and forth between the Kenyan staff. "What?" I asked "What is it?!" Salaash says "Oh Alleezon, you ah dating the BLACK MAN!!!!" Oh. my. God. It was hilarious. Maraka (see below) immediately looks concerned "what is he? Kikuyu? Is he Kamba?" "No no no no" I say, "he's not Kenyan, he's not a tribe." Mboya looks confused "he's not a tribe? is he from where then?" I say "well you know, a lot of black people in American aren't sure where they came from" "Oh" replies Mboya, "he is one of those black Americans. ok." Salaash is still giggling over his Tusker 'Alleezon, you came to Kenya and we taught you about the black men!" He cackles again. "So" Mboya continues, "Is he from Nigeria then?" "No! He doesn't know. You know, because of slavery and all..." Mboya (see below) interrupts me with a wave of his hand "Oh ok. Yeah I know about slavery and the boats and all that. So he's a black American. Ok." All I can hear is Salaash's "heee heeee heeee" in the background and rapid Swahili. Maraka is holding the picture of us to his face and studying it intently. "Well. He looks nice," comments Maraka, who once promised to kill any man who was "bad" to me. "Yes!!! He's wonderful!" I say quickly. The atmosphere starts to settle down a bit and the Kenyans sit at the table and begin passing around the photos so everyone can have a good look. There is a lot of talk about the picture of the two of us, all in Swahili, and I can't even catch the gist of it.

I started to wonder why me being white and Jam being black would be so shocking, and then I realized the Kenyan dynamic between white and black people is completely different than ours. On the whole, and I do realize there are some exceptions, you really wouldn't find mix-raced couples in Kenya, and even though the country has a small subset of non-African peoples, the races don't seem to mix, socially at least. The white people who are not there as peace corps or missionaries or volunteers are the left-overs from the colonial days, mostly British and quite wealthy, and therefore have their own exclusive circle. They employ black people, yes, but unless they are part of an elitist circle, they don't intermingle with them. I once thought I saw an interracial couple at a Nairobi supermarket. They were older, and I thought that they went together because they were in the same age range, and I had noticed that most of the servants employed by white people were youngish. This man was gray at the temples and had fine age lines crossing his face. As I got closer to the woman, she was having him reach the things high up on the shelf. How sweet, I thought, but then I heard her 'you put that in the cart and you go get me some milk. then you need to get me some of that, and then when we're through and after you've put away my groceries, I need you to drive me into town...." I shrunk away from her. Not only was she with a person that looked to be in at least his 60's, if not older, who did not need to be ordered around like that, she was disrespectful too, talking to this man as if he were an inanimate object, or a pet. I figured most Kenyans didn't see a black/white relationship were both members saw themselves to be completely equal. No wonder I had caused such scandal.

Lost in my thoughts, Salaash leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder. He had somehow procured a cigar and my friend's sunglasses and was enjoying both with his tusker. "You know something, Alleezon," he said, quite gravely. "Mixing is good." He looked at me intently. I sat back in my chair and looked at him and smiled. "Well I certainly think so," I answered. We are, after all, just 23 pairs of chromosomes expressing themselves differently.