Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kenya - nchi ya kitu kidogo, nchi ya watu wadogo, kama kawaida *sigh*

I've spent most of this week doing preparations for the upcoming field season: making sure cars get repaired, supplies get bought, organizing fossils in the museum, etc. Today I had a bit of a "down" day, in a good way - just some time to myself. I went to a great morning yoga class at the gym at the Sarit Center (the nearby western-style mall), later I had lunch with some I've never met, a friend (Juliet) of a friend of my husband's (Susan). Susan introduced us over email since we were both going to be in Nairobi; it's always nice for me to meet people outside of prehistory research! The lunch was great; she does aid work in Somalia, including some education work, and we had a lot to talk about. The only negative part of the day was hearing a story of an American friend who'd recently had this encounter in Nairobi:

Driver in old 4WD vehicle was stopped at a roundabout on the main highway through town. Policeman who was directing traffic approached driver, looked at the car, made sure it had current insurance (which is stuck to the windscreen; it did), asked for driver's license, which was produced -- and held on to by the policeman.
Policeman: "You know, your tires are very worn out."
Driver: (smiling, hoping this is a short encounter) "Yes, that's true. I plan to buy new tires soon."
Policeman: "It is illegal in Kenya to drive with worn-out tires. I will have to call another policeman to take you to the police station, where you will pay a fine."
Driver:  (not wanting to make too much of a fuss, but also a bit skeptical) "Really? It's illegal to drive with worn-out tires in Kenya?"
Policeman: "Yes. Please drive around the roundabout and pull over there." (pointing)
Driver: "Please give me my license back. I don't want to drive without it"
Policeman: "But then you will just run away. No."
(Driver does as told, slightly disappointed the 'please give me my license back' thing didn't work. Driver's been around the block - so to speak - in Kenya, and didn't really relish the idea of spending the afternoon at a Kenyan police station, so tried another tactic.)
Driver: "I have an important appointment to go to. Is there any chance I can pay you the fine right here, instead of spending so much time at the police station?"
Policeman: "Well, not exactly. It will not be an official fine, because I cannot issue you a proper receipt. But it can be... something else."
Driver: (thinking - yeah, I get it, buddy!)"That's fine. How much?"
Policeman: "How much do you want to pay?"
Driver: (thinking - well, let me offer an amount not too low to be insulting, but not too high to get ripped off.) "How much would the fine be at the police station?"
Policeman: "Well, I think it is a 5,000 shilling fee [about 62 US dollars], plus 1,500 shillings per worn out tire."
Driver: "OK... how about if I give you 2,000 shillings?"
Policeman: "That's fine. But please make sure no one sees you giving me money."
Driver thinks... that should be interesting, we're in the middle of a major roundabout with dozens of cars speeding by! But manages to roll down the window and pass the shillings to the policeman without anyone seeing.
The policeman thanked the driver, and then proceeded to ask about the driver's profession, what the driver was doing in Kenya... which seemed odd to the driver, his sudden chattiness. But better to leave the exchange on a friendly note with the policeman, even if the whole thing left a bad taste in the driver's mouth...

So what does the title of this blog post mean? There's a catchy song that was very popular here starting in 2001 by world-acclaimed Kenya singer Eric Wainaina called "Nchi Ya Kitu Kidogo". The title  literally translates to "Country of Something Small", but in common Swahili lingo 'kitu kidogo' refers to a bribe, so the title of the song really translates to "Country of Bribes". The next line in the song is "nchi ya watu wadogo", meaning 'country of small people' - and I'm pretty sure this is Wainaina's commentary on corruption in Kenya, rather than an assessment of average Kenyan stature (since many Kenyans are tall!). :D 'Kama kawaida' means 'as usual' in Swahili - that was my own little addition.