Yesterday was a frustrating day. Actually, it just involved a really frustrating few hours, between 5:30pm (when I was almost home after a long day) and 7pm (when I got to where I was meeting a few friends for dinner). One wouldn’t think that much could happen in 90 minutes, but hey, this is Kenya.
I’d turned off the main road I use on my way home, and greeted my neighbor, commenting that rain looked imminent (as it often does in the afternoons, if it’s not already raining). A few steps later, a young man (probably mid-late 20s) had approached me, “Hey, white woman!” I’m not sure if this was merely him trying to prove that he was above calling out “Mzungu,” (“European,” but more commonly used for any “white person”) or what, but I wasn’t especially impressed. I responded with something along the lines of, “What, black man?” He laughed and launched into a huge introduction, explaining his name, and then gave me this spiel about how he was an author and an artist, and he had been following me for a while because he really wanted to talk to me, but not around all the people who were on that main road, and he likes having friends from other cultures and backgrounds because he likes learning, and blah blah blah. Then it was, “So can we continue this conversation sometime?” to which I responded “Maybe.” Perhaps leaving it open like this was my first mistake, perhaps it was my third or fourth; looking back, I’m still not sure. He persisted, and in very good English (for which I had to give him some credit). I was pretty tired, and apparently my judgment was impaired and after we talked (read: he talked at me) some more, ended up giving out my phone number (which I ended up immediately regretting, and regretting some more later on down the line). Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. He kept talking probably another ten minutes before I managed to convince him I was done with the conversation and wanted to go home and rest (and have my afternoon/pre-dinner snack! I was getting hangry). He insisted we would meet again. I guarantee we will not.
I made it home, greeted the dogs (the two who were around and happy to see me), had some yogurt and sat down to relax and look through some articles to maybe send to some of our interns. Got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to meet up for dinner… Sigh of relief because it wasn’t that guy I had just encountered; yes of course, dinner would be great.
I then made the mistake of leaving my house before confirming mealtime, and when I got the second text message, I was probably halfway from my house to the restaurant with 30 minutes to spare. I turned around and headed back towards home, figuring I would just wait around outside along the road/my driveway and watch the colors in the sunset (which was really pretty!).
A couple guys came up the hill and started talking to me. Sure enough, within a few minutes, they too had asked for my name and number. This one was a much more obvious “no,” and after assuring me we would meet again, they eventually went on their merry way. Sidenote: One of my favorite responses to the question, “So, can you give me your numbers?” has become, “Why? What are you going to do with my phone number?” Usually I get something along the lines of, “So I can greet you!” You’re talking to me right now, dude, and I’m not convinced I want you to greet me.
I stood on a big rock and watched the sky for a while, then decided to see if there was a better view down the hill a little ways, and of course (with my luck) there was a man walking up the hill, talking on his phone. I acknowledged him politely (greetings are pretty important here) as we passed one another, and he continued slowly up the hill. Once I realized that the best view was in fact going to be on the top of the hill (actually on the rock I’d been standing on earlier), I went back up. “Madam, are you lost?” I explained to him I was watching the sky because I like sunsets. “Ah, then I think you can help me. You see, I am looking for a wife from the other side…” (“The other side” can mean many things; in this case, it meant he was looking for an American wife, and believed I would help him). He too introduced himself, and assured me he was Bernard Lagat’s brother-in-law (HAH, I’m sure), and that he had family in Texas, and that he had applied for a green card, but if I could only help him find a wife, it would be much easier for him. At this point I had to start walking to dinner (and I was getting rather tired of these encounters), so I sucked it up and walked with him for a while before turning off.
The sky had started getting darker, and while I knew I had enough time to get to dinner, I started walking at a more American pace (I was done talking to people, plus it was cooling down, and I was trying to stay warm). I passed a man carrying a big stick (reminded me of the ones Basotho commonly carried – and occasionally beat students or cattle with – in Lesotho). I was fully intending to ignore him, but he greeted me in solid English, so I responded, and in trying to be friendly (mistake), asked why he was carrying the cane. Turns out, it belonged to his grandmother who he had just visited in the hospital, and he was carrying it home. I had passed him, but he started walking faster, though still a few steps behind me. Then came a question I’d not heard from a Kenyan before: “Do you go to the gym?” I was a bit caught off guard as there aren’t many gyms around and working out doesn’t seem like a common thing around here, but I told him that I liked to run (many people have seen me in my neighborhood area, so I wasn’t divulging any grand secrets). “I can tell, because your legs look very sexy and strong.” Perfect. I’m in long pants and a sweater (not even the skirt I’d worn to work!), and this is the attention I’m getting. UGH. Ignore it: “Okay, goodnight sir.” I’d reached my destination and could not have been more relieved to enter the gate.
(Naturally now, sitting at my desk and fuming again, I can think of a handful of much better responses to that comment: “My legs are strong – watch out or I’ll kick you where it hurts,” or “I hope you didn’t plan on having kids”… )
Dinner was great. Good to see friends and unwind a bit, reminisce about life back home, and we even made plans to go hiking one of these weekends.
After I got home I checked my phone, only to find one missed call and four very long text messages from the first guy who approached me several hours earlier. He had just wanted to hear my voice, and say goodnight to me in person, but in lieu of that, felt like writing two novels would suffice (I think my favorite part was the last line of the last text where he asked for my name, because he had been too busy earlier talking about himself to actually ask anything about me).
Apple and iPhones for the win – there is a “Block this Number” option. Check plus.
Unfortunately, as I have come to understand first through Lesotho, and now Kenya, this is part of being a white woman in Africa. I don’t love it. In fact, I really struggle with it. Some of my closest friends at home are male (duh), but for the most part, as a woman, I just don’t have that option here. And that sucks. Many people from home have been asking if I’ve made friends since I’ve been here. I definitely have, but this gives some insight as to why (for now, anyway) they seem to either be the young women in the office, or other expats in the area.