On July 4th we celebrated our 40th year in Kenya. This auspicious occasion for us stimulated some reminiscing back to our early days in Kenya, recalling some of the things both fun and annoying, strange and cool, even weird at times. I remember the day I learned that there are many kinds of bananas in this world. Before we came to Kenya, I only knew the traditional Chiquita style bananas – long, curved and yellow, when ripe. But one day shortly after our arrival in Kenya, one of our hosts took me to the market along with their kids for shopping. Great! This was to be a good orientation exercise for me. It was fun going through the market, experiencing for the first time the interesting mix of sights, smells, and sounds of a typical Kenyan outdoor market. Cool. Our host had bought several straight, green bananas, all separate – not in a bunch like the kind I was used to. On the way home, bumping over the potholed roads, one of the young kids in the back of the car begged mommy for something to eat, it being lunch hour by then. She casually told them to go ahead and each take one of the bananas she had bought. I turned to her in horror. “They can eat those green bananas? They won’t get a belly ache?” She laughed at my naivete, explaining that those bananas were indeed ripe and very ready to eat. “They never turn yellow…they’ll only turn black when overripe”. Oh. I tried one myself and found them to be so much sweeter than my yellow friends back home. I soon came to prefer those Nyeri bananas and to this day seek them out whenever we are in the mountain area of Kenya. After that, I discovered short, stubby, yellow ‘finger bananas’ and several other styles of bananas I previously never knew existed. But to this day, those Nyeri bananas are still my favorites.
Another cool thing on that first shopping day that really arrested my attention were the candelabra trees…huge tree-sized cacti which do indeed resemble candelabra! I had never seen such a thing. As we drove around winding, twisting roads overlooking deep, green valleys, the hillsides were dotted with these majestic cacti, arms spread wide to the sky. I was captivated and gawked the whole way to market and back – the whole trip taking roughly 20 minutes each way, exclaiming over this weird and fascinating sight. To this day, that route is a favorite of mine and yes, many of the candelabra trees are still there and still fascinate me!
One source of both annoyance and amusement were the telephone party lines. Having grown up with private phone lines in the U.S. and even having gotten used to push button phones as opposed to the rotary dial phones, it took some getting used to remembering which distinctive ring tone was ‘our’ number, as well as having to go through an operator every time we needed to make a call. Often, we would attempt to reach the operator, only to find she was on tea break or out to lunch. In those times, we would have to wait until she returned. It felt very peculiar and truth be told, rather creepy to be talking with someone on the phone and hear the barely perceptible breathing of a 3rd party on the line. At least we never heard any giggles or gasping at any of the revelations of our private lives!
Finally, there was the incident of the spider-eating cat. Our cats back home ate normal food – canned moist cat food and often, hard, dry kibble. You know, normal food for cats. Shortly after taking over the job of house-sitting our hosts’ home, while they went for a furlough in the U.S., we discovered a rat problem. These were not the cuddly little laboratory-style rats with cute little twitching noses and shiny bright eyes. No, these were rats – ugly, grey, biggish things with ugly teeth and permanent sneers on their snouts. So, what do you do if you have rats? You get a cat, of course! We had friends who had a cat and wanted to go on vacation for 2 weeks. Perfect! We volunteered to watch their cat for those 2 weeks, hoping to get rid of the rats as compensation. Chip and I are both allergic to cats but figured we could manage for that length of time in order to get rid of the rat(s). Well, perhaps it had to do with the respective size of the rat(s) and cat (who was rather small). Or perhaps the cat simply had gourmet tastes. But in the end, the rats stuck around, the population not dwindling in the least, the cat preferring other prey. One evening my husband let go with a hearty laugh, calling me into the office. I found him holding the cat, saying “Watch this!” He proceeded to lift the cat slowly towards the ceiling, where there rested a fat, black spider, minding his or her own business. Quick as lightening, the cat sprung the remaining distance from Chip’s arms, swiped at the spider with one front paw, grabbed the spider, stuffed it in its mouth, and landed 8 feet down on the floor, spider legs dangling from its mouth – all in one smooth movement! The victorious hunter strode from the room victoriously mewing – likely boasting of its wonderful catch – never mind that it had help from the 2-legged human. We laughed until our sides hurt.
Speaking of spiders…well, I’ll save that for another instalment on things that bug us…