My Trip to Kenya, Africa

Date Occurred: The trip was from Thursday, August 8, through Thursday, August 22, 1991

Date Written: Most of this was written from August 28 through September 1, 1991, but then heavily revised, edited, and scanned-in images added for the web site from December 20 through December 22, 2003.

Written by: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) 2003 by Joel T. Kant


I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A good friend there was John Stilwell, an electrical engineering student like I was. He loved science fiction so much that he wrote many science fiction short stories and a novel while a college student, as well as two dozen computer articles. The computer articles got published, but his fiction did not. While I loved science fiction novels in high school, I had mostly given up reading them in college because studying engineering kept me too swamped for it. I certainly was not writing my own!

In the autumn of 1984, John signed up for a course titled "Technology in Literature." From the description, it appeared to be about science fiction. Since I needed a literature course, he easily persuaded me to join him. It was not what I expected. The emphasis was on technology being destructive and dehumanizing. Human workers were already nearly obsolete due to industrial robots, artificial-intelligence computers would soon replace humans in thinking jobs, and pollution and nuclear waste were choking out life. That hardly mattered because inevitable total nuclear war would end all life in the very near future.

I like technology and science. I think most people choosing engineering as a profession do. Even though technology and science can be destructively applied, I think in most ways they improve human life. My attitude clashed so strongly that I feared I might not pass the course, even though I had perfect attendance and read every word in every assigned book, article, and short story. John seemed to be in the same boat or worse, as he seemed to love technology even more than I.

John noticed a long-haired, slender, freckled young woman in our class. He talked to her and found out her name was Rita Leary. He convinced her to study with him, myself, and a couple of our other friends. Later, I spent time studying with just Rita, which was unusual as John had been the one to talk to her first.

Rita seemed to grasp the anti-technology attitude that baffled me. She helped me survive the course, even though I felt like a fraud doing it. If I had been true to my beliefs, I likely would have flunked, which would have slowed my graduation.

With this course along with the others I needed, I graduated in August of 1986. I got an offer from MIT Lincoln Laboratory, located on Hanscom Air Force Base in Lexington, Massachusetts, near Boston. Although some projects there are for non-military applications, my projects were funded through the military.

I told Rita soon after I got the job offer. She did not like that I was joining the military-industrial complex. However, she was still nice to me when we were alone together. In contrast, when her friends were around, they talked as though I were moving to the Boston area to murder innocent babies. At those times, Rita remained silent, so was neither attacking nor defending me.

During the years when I worked at Lincoln Laboratory, I drove back to Wisconsin for each Christmas vacation. Although I spent Christmas and several days around it with my parents and siblings in Wisconsin Rapids, I drove down to Madison for New Year's because I had several close friends living or visiting parents there. I also looked up Rita most of those years. I hated being treated like a baby killer merely for working at Lincoln Laboratory when her friends were around, so was glad most of her friends had left for the holidays. Rita's parents lived in Madison, so she stayed around unlike most college students. After a couple years, she completed her undergraduate degree, then had an internship to become a high school teacher.

In 1990, Rita joined the Peace Corps. She was stationed in Kenya, Africa. I got letters from her on flimsy blue paper that folded up to make its own envelop. (See Fig. 1)

Rita in village

Figure 1: Rita in a village in Kenya, Africa in 1991

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

The first Gulf War happened while she was in Kenya. From her letters, it did not seem that she was getting much news. I owned a short-wave radio. Rather than just relying on the American news, I liked the coverage of the BBC, which I easily received during the evenings. It occurred to me that even in Kenya, Rita might receive various stations with a decent short-wave radio. I bought one, then mailed it to her as a gift.

After getting that, Rita sent a letter inviting me to visit. In May of 1991, I accepted the invitation and bought airline tickets. I would arrive on August 8, then leave on August 22.

Traveling to Kenya was not like flying down to Baltimore, Maryland to attend John Stilwell's bachelor party, which I did in July of 1991. For going to Kenya, I had to get a visa, a passport, and many vaccinations. Since I held a security clearance, I had to meet with the Security Department. I needed none of this to visit Baltimore, although for the section of the city visited for a bachelor party, perhaps the Security Department should care more than what I was to encounter in Kenya!

An absolute commandment that I was given was not to tell anybody in Kenya where I worked. It was stressed that violating this could count as breaking the law. After I had seen the required videos and signed off on reading certain documents, my trip seemed to present no problems as far as the Security Department was concerned.

On Thursday, August 8, 1991, I took an average-sized jet airplane from Boston to New York. I then took a much larger plane, a Boeing 747, from there to Frankfurt, Germany.

During the 747 flight, I read a book titled "The Real Guide: Kenya" by Richard Trillo. A black woman with her hair spiked up noticed what I was reading. She told me that her name is Judy. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya, but is attending college in Seattle, Washington. She was heading home for her sister's wedding. She asked what the book had to say about various tourist sites around Nairobi. I read some paragraphs. She was not pleased. She claimed the descriptions were opinionated and biased.

I asked her about various tribes such as the Maasai and the Kikuyu. She said that she comes from the Kikuyu tribe. I told her that Rita works with the Chonyi tribe. The Chonyi are one of the nine tribes that make up the group called the Mijikenda. I had that information from Ritaís letters.

As Judy talked about specific tribes, she told me some tribes still believe in ghosts and witches. She asked me if I believed in such things.

"No," I said, which ended that conversation. Perhaps I had offended her.

Judy's seat was many rows away during the flight from Frankfurt to Nairobi, which was in a much smaller jet airplane. I did not mind because I was exhausted and did not feel like discussing ghosts and witches.

As we flew through the dark night sky, we entered a lightning storm. I looked out the window and noticed that the wing was glowing yellow! Unable to trust my senses as I had been trying to sleep in my seat, I asked the passenger next to me if she could also see the glow. She did. Yet, the glow did not seem to affect the flight of the plane. When we flew out of the cloud, the wing glow vanished.

The captain spoke over the loudspeaker. We had to make a detour because of the storm. The plane turned. I hoped that I could still make my connection to Mombasa with the added delay. We landed in Nairobi, Kenya at 10:30 pm, about an hour late. My connecting flight left at 11:15 pm, so I still had a chance to make it. I had set my watch to the local time already.

I rushed through customs, which to my delight took little time. I went out into the main area. Men jumped in front of me and shouting as though I were deaf, "Taxi!"

I pushed my way through them. I found an airport official. He directed me to a Kenya Airways desk in the main building. When I got there, it was closed for the night. I pushed my way back through the men shouting, "Taxi." I found another airport official. He directed me to another building. Worried about time, I ran there. Four counters had signs that said Kenya Airways. Three were unoccupied, while the fourth had a small line. I waited through the line. When I tried to arrange my flight, the man behind the counter said that this counter was for Uganda Airlines. He directed me to the three empty counters.

Behind the empty counters was a large white board with my flight, Number 130 listed on it as leaving at 23:15. Checking my watch, I still had almost twenty minutes before it left. I went to an information desk. The man there left his desk and came over to the Kenya Airways counter. He went to a back room and brought out a woman. The woman looked at my ticket and said that I could not get on the plane.

I glanced at my watch again, then protested, "I still have fifteen minutes before the plane leaves! Why can't I get on?"

She said, "It is an international flight."

I responded, "We are in Narobi, Kenya. I'm going to Mombasa, which is still in Kenya."

She explained, "Yes, but the flight continues on to Rome. You have to check in half-an-hour before an international flight."

Even though it would have been impossible for me to do so after getting through customs and then coming to this building, she would not relent. She sent me back to the information desk to have my ticket changed to the next day.

The man there explained, "I'm not sure you will be able to get on the ten o'clock flight, but I will put you on reserve."

Kenya Airways did not provide a taxi or a motel room. I guess I was supposed to stay at the airport overnight. Many people were sleeping there, but I did not feel it was a safe place for a single white exhausted American like myself. Before I could hire a taxi, I had to change my money. I went to the currency exchange window, which is open 24-hours a day, and got some Kenya shillings. That took me past midnight.

After this, I went and chose one of the men who kept screaming, "Taxi!"

I looked for one that I found less forceful about it then the others. I was so tired that my mind kept wandering from the task at hand.

Since I needed to be back at the airport early in the morning, all I wanted was someplace with a bed. I picked one of the places in the "cheapest lodgings" from the book by Trillo. That place was full, but the next place I tried on the list, the New Kenya Lodge, was open. (See Fig. 2)

Narobi Street

Figure 2: A street in Narobi with New Kenya Lodge

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

The cab driver asked if I needed a ride in the morning. I told him that I needed to leave at seven. It was nearly one am. He assured me his cab would be waiting. I was glad of that, but the significance of his wording did not penetrate my weary mind.

I went to my room. I set down my gear, shut off the light, laid down, and tried to sleep. My body thought it was six in the evening because of jet lag, but I had not slept much in a long time. The room had a window protected with heavy bars. The dirty windows slowly lightened with the coming dawn. I do not know how much I slept that night. I did not need to listen for the alarm on my digital watch because I was awake before it beeped.

Since there was no phone in the room, a man from the front desk came up and told me that my cab was waiting. I took my gear and left the building. In the morning light, I could see bars over all the windows on buildings up and down the street. Pulled down steel shutters covered closed shops. A few people wandered the street.

I had not expected the same driver, but there he was. I wondered at the same man being there a little before seven am when he had let me off at one am. He looked like he had slept in his car. That seemed to indicate a need for customers far beyond what I had expected.

In the daylight, I could see his car had the rare distinction of being in worse shape than the old Honda Accord that I drove back then. His car looked like it had been repeatedly repaired with body putty, then painted with a brush. Some of the inside doorknobs were broken off. The dashboard was covered with a rug. A sign over the dashboard rug said, "God is Love." The steering wheel was on the right, British style, because the Kenyans drive on the left side of the road. The driver had to fiddle under the hood for a couple minutes before he could start his car, but he got it going. (see Fig. 3)

Cab in Narobi

Figure 3: The taxi cab I took in Narobi

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

As we traveled along, I could see many people, all black, walking. A large dump truck picked up many of them. They packed themselves in the back. The taxi driver said that they were being taken to a construction site to work. We later saw the truck filled with people turn into the site of a half-completed office building.

The driver rolled down the window and the window crank came off. He shoved it back on without concern.

We safely reached Kenyatta International Airport. I found the correct building. The Kenya Airways counter was empty, but I was two hours early.

Rita had written that we would stay in the Skyway Hotel in Mombasa. Thinking she might have still stayed there, I decided to try phoning. It had not even occurred to me to try the night before. Before I could do this, I went to the 24-hour bank and exchanged bills for coins. With the pay phone, I reached the operator, but couldn't understand a word she said. I tried a half-dozen more times, but only got a busy signal.

An hour before the flight, the Kenya Airways counter opened. I was still fighting with the phone. I immediately left the phone and got in line. I was fifth. After getting my seat assignment, I had to get in another line to pay an airport tax. The tax was fifty shillings, which is only $1.80 in U.S. currency. The first three people in the queue paid their tax, got a little sticker put on their tickets, and heading into the gate area. The fourth person got to the desk. She hadn't changed her U.S. dollars into shillings yet. Rather than sending her to change her money or telling her to wait, the man behind the counter took her dollars, closed his window, and left. The line behind me was huge. After fifteen minutes, he came back, gave her change, and stamped her ticket.

I was glad I had changed my money already. I paid my tax and got into the gate area. Next to the gate was a bar. I bought a cold Coca-Cola, needing the caffeine. At a table near the bar sat a couple who talked like they were British. I struck up a conversation with them. John and Christine are from England. They would be staying in Kenya for two years. John had been to Kenya a few times before, but this was his wife's first visit. He was setting up a Caterpillar tractor dealership in Mombasa, the city on the coast where I was to meet Rita.

I described my frustrating experience with Kenya Airways. John laughed, then described it as typical. I told John and Christine about how I was supposed to have met Rita last night in Mombasa. I showed them her picture. I asked if there was a secret technique needed to use the telephone.

John said that the pay phones do not work well, but they have a phone in the office in Mombasa that works properly. If I could not find Rita at the airport in Mombasa, he offered to take me to his office to use his phone. I did not get John and Christine's last name and will undoubtedly never see them again, but their kindness made my trip much better. I was very grateful.

John warned me that I would have to go out onto the runway and point to my luggage before it was put on the plane. I was glad he warned me of this. Before the plane took off, a flight attendant read off the names on the luggage still out on the runway. She called out, "Will Mr. Smith come out and identify his luggage?"

This process took a while. It made it understandable why I had not been allowed on the plane that was going to leave in fifteen minutes the night before.

The airplane was a normal, moderate-size jet made by Boeing. I think it was a 707. When we got in the air, I had an excellent view of Mount Kilimanjaro, but I could not take a photograph as my camera was stowed with my luggage.

After getting off the plane, John said that they would see if Rita was there. If not, he and his wife would wait for me. I had to retrieve my luggage, which had been too large for carry-on. John and Christine only had carry-on bags. I retrieved my backpack and shoulder bag, which were my two pieces of luggage. After I left that area, I went out and found Rita next to a black man with a beard and mustache.

Rita told me that a man she did not know had walked straight up to her and asked, "Are you Rita?"

It had been John. Rita explained that he and his wife had left after seeing her. Rita introduced the man next to her as her good friend Halib.

After spending a year close to the equator, Rita's skin was still white, although her freckles seemed more noticeable. Her dark hair had turned red. For shoes, she wore flip-flop sandals.

We left the airport and got into a car with two other black men, one of them driving. This car was in marginally better shape than the cab in Nairobi. I was confused by who the two men driving the car were, but it turned out that they were merely hired drivers that I never saw again. The road was extraordinarily bumpy because it was under construction. Rita said that President Moi, leader of Kenya, was coming to visit Mombasa. Thus, a lot of rushed construction was going on.

We got out of the car in downtown Mombasa, then the car with the two men left. Rita, Halib, and I stopped at a small shop with a corrugated metal roof. Rita bought some charcoal. We went to another small shop where she bought a bag marked corn meal. With these chores completed, we went to a place that served cold sodas. Small restaurants like this are called hotelis in Kenya. It has nothing to do with the word hotel, as these are often no more than one large room, so do not have rooms to rent for the night. I had a Coca-Cola. Rita and Halib had a lemon soda called Bitter Lemon Krest, which was popular in Kenya.

After we left the hoteli, Halib walked away. I do not know where he was going.

Rita and I headed off to catch a bus. After a long wait, it arrived. Rita told me that the bus was supposed to get there at 10:30 a.m. I looked at my watch. It was 2:30 p.m.

I brought my backpack and shoulder bag on the bus. There were racks above the seat. The racks sagged from years of heavy use. My large backpack barely fit in it. A pole extended from the roof of the bus to the floor. It was the kind of pole a standing passenger would hold. The part near the roof had banged around so much that there was a hole about a foot in diameter.

Rita and I took a seat. The bus did not leave right away. People were handing pieces of lumber up to a man on the roof of the bus. The bus had a roof rack.

I jumped as I heard a loud sound, "Bang!"

Something had hit the side of the bus. Amused by my startled reaction, Rita explained that people hit the side of the bus as a signal. Sometimes, people hit the bus just for fun. There was another bang, but this time I saw the man outside the bus window hit the side of the bus with his hand.

The bus left. It bounced along the road. As we traveled along, a man at the door of the bus leaned out. To a vehicle passing the other way, he made the "V" symbol that Nixon used at the end of his presidency. To me, that symbol means either "victory" or "peace". Since the man had made such a production out of it, I asked Rita what that meant in Kenya. She said that it meant a two-party system. She warned me giving that hand sign can get you in trouble with the police. Kenya had what they call a one-party democracy.

(As I revise this in 2003, Kenya has had a multi-party system for many years. It was changed a few years of my visit in 1991.)

The bus engine quit. Since we were rolling down a hill, the driver popped the clutch and restarted it without stopping. Rita said that was normal.

The bus pulled up to an area where people waited. It stopped. Many people got out. The people who were waiting proved to be mostly vendors rather than new passengers. They sold peanuts, cashews, frozen ice treats, meat on a stick, and baked goods. They beckoned by the bus windows. Others strode down the aisle harking their products.

Rita said that this would be a long delay because the bus can't otherwise get back to town before the bank closes, so the driver and the faretaker had left to deposit their money in the bank.

I finally bought some peanuts from a boy beside our window. He had put much effort into making the sale.

The driver and faretaker came back. Passengers climbed back in. The bus started. We bounced off down the dirt road.

Rita pointed out a small boy beside the road. The boy had a toy car unlike any I had ever seen. The body of the car was made of sticks tied together. A large stick came out of the car and ended in a full-size steering wheel, also made from sticks. The car had small rotating wheels. The boy pushed it along side the road. Rita said that the kids make these toy cars themselves. The car's wheels are made from rubber made from old sandals or worn out real tires.

I had my camera and would have loved to take a photograph. However, the book by Trillo had warned me not to take any photographs that would include natives without their permission. I asked Rita about that. She confirmed that this was good advice. Therefore, I saw many wonderful things in Kenya that I did not photograph.

On the subject of toys, Rita told of one girl at her school who had made a copy of Rita's camera out of clay. The girl had copied everything, including all the lettering.

We passed corn growing beside the road, including being planted in the ditches. The corn looked strange to me because it was planted by hand so was unevenly spaced. I am accustomed to the perfect rows of corn sown by machines that we would have in America. (See Fig. 4)

Countrside by village

Figure 4: The countryside near the village Rita lived in

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Rita pointed to some thatched huts near the road. She said that was her village. I prepared to get off, but Rita said I should wait because the bus turned around a little distance ahead at the school. The bus pulled into a driveway. A wall beside the driveway identified the place as Lutsangani Secondary School, which is where Rita taught. The bus backed out again, having reversed its direction. This time, we got out at the village.

Rita insisted she should carry both my framed backpack and my blue shoulder bag even though she was already carrying her charcoal and flour. Having been raised in a culture where boys carry schoolbooks for girls, I thought this was ludicrous. I told her I should carry some of her load instead. She explained that in the culture there, a man was not supposed to carry a bag if there was a woman to do it. I did not like this at all. She said that by my not giving her my bags, I was not respecting the Kenyan culture. While this may be so, to have given her my bags, especially the heavy loaded backpack, went strongly against my own culture.

I thought her phrasing gave me a way out. My backpack was a large, framed model designed for serious, heavy loads. It was not a glorified book bag. A heavy padded belt put the majority of the load on the waist, with little pressure on the shoulders. It was the right size for me, with all the straps carefully adjusted for my build. Rita was the wrong size. It would not fit her well, even if all the straps were changed. (See Fig. 5)

Joel on muddy road

Figure 5: Joel on a muddy road

[Photograph by Rita Leary]

Rita was so upset that for a moment I thought she might cry. I did let her take my blue shoulder bag, which mostly contained my snorkeling gear, and felt guilty even for that concession. We marched into the village. Some huts had thatched roofs and walls made with sticks and mud. Other huts were thatched all the way to the ground. (See Fig. 6)


Figure 6: Rita's Village

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Rita warned me that as we approached, people would quickly run up and take the bags. In this prediction, she was wrong. As we passed huts, mothers and children stood and watched us. Rita talked with them. I did not understand a word. I think they were scared of me.

Rita had a quick, heated exchange with some people in a language I did not know. Rita said that they were criticizing her because I was still carrying my backpack. Rita said that she told them what I had told her, but the villagers did not believe it. Yet, I had not made a phony excuse. We were nearly through the village when a teenage boy finally came out and carried the shoulder bag for Rita.

We reached Rita's two-room house, which had white walls unlike the brown walls of most of the rest of the village. Her house had a thatched roof similar to the other buildings. A combination padlock secured her door. In front of her house was a banana tree, rising about eight feet. I hadn't realized banana trees were so small.

Inside the house in the living room was a heavy steel, single-speed adult bicycle with fat tires. Rita said that one of the most prized possessions in Kenya was a multi-speed mountain bicycle with alloy wheels. Bicycles like hers were more common.

Inside the house, the ceiling sagged and had big cracks. It looked like it could fall down during the middle of the night. As it got dark, Rita pulled out and lit a kerosene lantern.

On Saturday morning, August 10, Rita opened the shutters over the window in the living room of her two-room house. I had been stayed in what served as that room while she had been in the only other room, a bedroom.

The shutters were on the inside of the house, not on the outside of the building as is the custom in Boston. Within a few minutes, eight kids were staring in the window. They intently watched everything we did. Rita quietly mentioned that she burns her garbage in the middle of the night. Otherwise, people go through it to see what a white person throws away. Rita described the experience as living in a fishbowl.

I dug out my camera. The kids vanished. I set the camera down and the kids came back. I again picked up the camera and the kids vanished. Rita went outside, then peered in the window. A young boy came over by her and peered in also. I could not resist, so snapped the shutter. (See Fig. 7)

Rita in Window

Figure 7: Rita and a young boy peering in the window of Ritaís house

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Rita said that while that picture was not a problem, I should not take other photographs with people in them. A short time later, she called my attention to a topless woman walking by the window. It looked like a scene taken directly from National Geographic. I kept the camera put away.

Rita then played music on a Walkman with external speakers. However, Rita had a homemade outfit attached to it made by one of the other Peace Corps volunteers. It allowed the Walkman to use D-cells rather than AA cells. The D cells last much longer. I appreciated that as I have an LCD television that I did the same thing for back in Boston.

As the music played through the small speaker, children outside the window laughed when Rita began dancing. One of kids then brought a cassette tape that he begged Rita to play. She put it on. It contained rap music. The kids danced outside the window.

Rita gathered up her clothes and told me to get my dirty clothes. We walked from the village to the school where the water was. Her house had no running water.

Rita washed the clothes by hand. I offered to wash my own clothes. Rita said she would never hear the end of it if she allowed that. Men do not wash clothes! After the big argument with the villagers when I did not let her carry my heavy backpack, I gave in. This was the first time someone else had washed my clothes since I started college. Even when I was home for the holidays when in college, I did my own laundry, although that was mostly to prevent my cloths from getting mixed up with my brothers' and father's.

Rita used the Woolite that I had brought on the more delicate fabrics. Never have I seen anyone so delighted with a bottle of detergent. It was one of the better things that I had lugged along. It does not seem to be available there. Back in Boston, I wore ties to work every day, but am too cheap and lazy to bring those to a dry cleaner. I used Woolite to clean them back home.

After hanging the clothes to dry, we explored the school, which was a short walk from the village. (See Fig. 8) The campus was made of many buildings, but none had electricity. The buildings had mortared cement blocks for walls and corrugated metal roofs.

School street

Figure 8: Street through Lutsangani Secondary School

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

We went into a classroom. (See Fig. 9) Because there was no electricity, a large open window provided natural light. The window had neither screen nor glass.

Dark classroom

Figure 9: A typical classroom

[Photograph by Joel Kant

The blackboard wasn't made of slate, but rather was fine cement painted black. (See Fig. 10) In some areas, the black paint was flacking off or worn through. Rita said that chalk wore out quickly on the coarse surface. Since the school did not have books for each student, Rita had to write down the day's reading material on the board. From halfway back in the room, I found could not read the board. I had never before considered the practical use of a typical blackboard in a typical American school before that moment.

Flacky blackboard

Figure 10: The blackboard in one of the classrooms

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Because of the corrugated sheet metal roofs on each building, Rita said that during heavy rain, she had to shout to be heard. (See Fig. 11) The pitter-patter of rain was audible as she told me this, but it was a light rain so it was easy to talk over the sound. In a very loud voice, she demonstrated how she had to talk to be heard over a heavy rain. I realized the light rain would prevent our hanging hand-washed clothes from drying.

Metal roof

Figure 11: A corrugated metal roof from inside the building

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Rita went to her office to check for mail (See Fig. 12) There was none. The shelves were crudely made of lumber, but functional. Compared to what I was used to for a teacher's office, there were few books, but many handwritten notes. Rita placed newspapers over her desk and books. I asked why she was doing that. She replied that she did not want everything to be dirty when she gets back from her three-week vacation.

Rita office

Figure 12: Rita's office

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

I noticed hanging on a web from a tree at the edge of a school building was an enormous spider. I held a Kenyan shilling close to it for scale, then took a photograph using my other hand. (See Fig. 13) The coin is about one and a half the diameter of a U.S. quarter. Rita, who said she did not know if the spider was poisonous or not, acted shocked that I had done this.

Large spider

Figure 13: A large spider

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Near one of the buildings stood a huge baobab tree. (See Fig. 14) Rita said that during the dry season when the tree loses its leaves, the thick branches and wide trunk makes looks like it a tree planted upside down with its roots in the air.

Baobab tree

Figure 14: A baobab tree

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

We returned to the village in the afternoon. Four men sat in low chairs outside a white house next to Rita's white house. The men drank something. Rita told me it was manazi, a fermented coconut milk.

One of the men, Rita's landlord, called out to her. Rita translated and told me that the men had invited me to join them for a drink. As I accepted, Rita cautioned me that the manazi is very strong. (See Fig. 15)


Figure 15: Joel drinking manzi with Ritaís landlord and other men

[Photograph by Rita Leary]

I was handed a small cup with a straw. The manazi is drunk through a straw that has a filter put on one end. I didn't much care for it, but it might be an acquired taste. I didn't much care for beer the first time I had it either. I drank only a little, heeding the warning.

Despite having conversed with Rita in Swahili or a similar language called Kiswahili, the landlord spoke reasonably good English to me. It seemed the other three men only knew a little English. In Rita's village, many of the children were much more fluent in English then their parents.

When I was asked where I was from, I told them, "Boston, Massachusetts. In the United States."

The landlord pointed in a certain direction and said it was that way to the United States. I had no idea if that compass direction would be the shortest distance or not. The shortest distance would probably be to point nearly straight down, but I decided not to mention that.

I retrieved some postcards I had brought of Boston. I do not recall where I read the suggestion when traveling abroad to bring a stack of postcards from where you are from, perhaps in Trillo's book. It worked well, and I recommend the practice.

The landlord carefully and correctly read the captions on the back of each card. The men particularly liked the card showing the Charles River that separates Boston from Cambridge.

The landlord asked if my watch, or saa in his language, was made in the United States.

I replied, "No. It was made in Japan."

The landlord was the only man wearing a watch. It was a shiny, inexpensive, digital watch. I asked, "Is your saa, watch, made in Japan?"

"No. Cheena," he said, then paused said clearly, "China."

The men talked among themselves a little in Swahili. The landlord asked me question one of the other men had brought up, "Do you own an automobile?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Is it made in the United States?"

"No, it is a Honda. It was made in Japan," I responded, as my Honda was so old it was well before Honda had manufacturing plants in the United States.

The landlord smiled, then asked, "Your watch is made in Japan. Your automobile is made in Japan. What do they make in the United States?"

I was unsure how to answer such a question. I started to tell them that automobiles are still made in the United States just not the type I had, when the landlord triumphantly interrupted with his own answer, "Arms!"

I left them to join Rita. The landlord had brought up a topic I did not want to discuss, especially since I had been given the commandment from the Security Department to tell nobody in Kenya where I worked. Lincoln Laboratory does no manufacturing of its own, but many projects are for the military.

A problem with not letting anybody in Kenya know where I work is Rita herself knew where I worked. She had known for years before joining the Peace Corps.

Rita acted annoyed with me, but I did not understand why. I had had so little manzi that I was far from drunk, so that did not seem the problem. After a while, she explained that she had lived in the village for a year, but had never been invited to have manzi. I was there for a single day, and I was invited. It was only my being male and their culture that led to it, but she was annoyed by the sexism. Some of that anger was directed at me, even if it was unfair. I mentioned that I did not like the taste, but that made matters worse.

It rained all Saturday night and was still raining on Sunday, August 11, 1991. All the huts in the village were surrounded by mud. The chickens and ducks that ran around loose did not mind the mud. (See Fig. 16)


Figure 16: A chicken wandering free through the mud in the village

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

The rain diminished to a light drizzle. The women in the village wanted me to take a picture after they had time to prepare. I agreed to this. They took a long time getting themselves ready. Rita had to urge them to hurry because we had to leave to catch the bus. They lined up and posed carefully and awkwardly. I snapped the picture. (See Fig. 17)


Figure 17: The mamas of the village

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Apparently, the women had encountered a Polaroid camera that spits out the photograph which develops as you wait, because they wanted to see the picture immediately. Rita explained that I had to send the film away for developing.

Later, Rita told me that they knew about sending film away to get developed because of her camera. Rita also said that I had better send her a copy of the picture. The women would be like little kids waiting for a mail-order toy to arrive. In hindsight, it would have been good to bring an instant Polaroid camera also, then take multiple pictures. I did not think of that until I was there, though.

Rita informed me that we would have to walk out of the village. The road was an orange, muddy mess that the bus could not get through. We would walk a few miles to where the road was better. Rita instructed me to carry my shoes and walk barefoot. The mud was so thick it would go entirely over my shoes.

I took off my running shoes and tied them onto my backpack. I followed Rita out of the village. My feet sometimes sunk up to my ankles in the orange mud that made up the road. I was glad I wore shorts, because mud splashed up to my knees. (See Fig. 5 and Fig. 18)

Rita on muddy road

Figure 18: Rita walking on a road of mud

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

The rain came down much heavier. We got drenched, but the air was so warm that I did not bother getting out my raincoat.

Beside the road tied to trees were goats. A rope tied to each goatís hind leg or neck kept the goats from wandering off. (See Fig 19) Some goats stretched to the end of their rope and had their rear leg sticking straight back as they reached for more leaves to eat. Something that occurred to me is that without electricity, there is no reasonable way to keep milk cold. It made sense to have your own goat to supply fresh milk.


Figure 19: A goat tied up near the road

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

The bus came down the road. Instead of stopping it, Rita made a turning around signal. The faretaker nodded. The bus passed us. We had walked farther than necessary. As we waited for the bus to come back, a crowd surrounded us and stared intently. People mumbled to each other. Even when I could hear their comments, I could not understand the language.

The bus reappeared, providing an escape. However, even as Rita and I rode along in the bus, we passed children standing besides the road who saw our white faces, pointed, and yelled, "Mzungu! Mzungu!"

Rita told me that Mzung is the word they use for white person. The origin of the word is not the color white, but "to travel around." The first white men in the country were explorers.

The shouting visibly irritated Rita. She said that no matter how long she is in Kenya or what she does there, she will never fit in, but always be called Mzungu. Rita said that a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV for short) shouts back with fake excitement, "African! African!"

The bus took us to another school. There, we joined a PCV who taught there and another PCV who visiting from a different school. There was also a female tourist from the U.S. Rita's native friend Halib, who I had met in Mombasa, was also present. A couple other natives were also present.

Rita and I washed the mud off our feet. Rita said that people sometimes stop by this house just to wash their feet. Having walked on mud roads gave me more appreciation why the bible has so many references to washing feet.

Rita said told me they would have a big party that night. She had arranged to get goat meat, a great luxury. She listed the people who would be there, most of the names meaning nothing to me.

I noticed a PCV sitting on the couch stirring a shallow bowl filled with rice with her hands. Occasionally, she would grab something from the bowl and toss it on the floor.

I asked, "What are you doing?"

She replied, "Removing stones from the rice."

It was a chore that had never occurred to me, but was logical after the explanation. I was glad that I did not have to do that when preparing rice back home.

Halib, Rita, and I left to get the goat meat. The man who had promised Rita the goat meat was not in town. Rita was furious. Even though she had earlier told me that living in Kenya had taught her not to get angry at anything, she was clearly angry.

Although getting goat meat had failed and there seemed nothing to repair that situation, we still had to get vegetables. I was in the way while Rita and Halib bargained. They were good at it, but it was time consuming. I much prefer having clearly labeled prices in the supermarket. However, back in the U.S., I know various people who love dickering for deals at rummage sales and flea markets. I am simply not one of them.

Before we got back to the school, the sun went down. Rita and Halib confidently walked where I could see no path. Without street lights and only a very rare automobile, truck, or bus passing along, the nights were very dark indeed.

At the party, I pulled out M&Mís and Oreo cookies. Rita had suggested in a letter that I bring these. The Peace Corps Volunteers loved them, almost making up for the missing goat meat. Some of the natives, including Halib, tried these American delicacies. They did not seem to care for them any more than I had for the manzi back in Rita's village.

I discovered something that I should have expected if I had not been so naive. Rita had told her fellow Peace Corps Volunteers where I had worked, as she had known before coming to the country and had been given no instructions not to discuss it. The attitudes I found among the other Peace Corps Volunteers about where I worked and what I did, or at least as much as Rita knew of it or guessed, were similar to what I had found among Rita's friends back in Madison, Wisconsin. I suppose it is only natural for some people in the Peace Corps to dislike anything associated with the military or military projects. Since I was forbidden to mention where I worked under penalty of law even though nearly everybody there already knew it, I had little I could say to defend myself other than vague generalities. This situation had not been covered in the security briefing.

I thought of lying. I had a friend who worked for Digital Equipment Corporation in Boston, so could probably come up with convincing details that I worked there. However, Rita would never believe I had switched employers to something she would not disapprove of without telling her until now. Besides, I tend to make an unconvincing liar. I gave up the idea. Instead, I refused to discuss the subject.

I believe this made me come across as a rude party guest. The situation with the other PCV's was unpleasant.

I woke early on Monday, August 12. I went out running. The night had been without rain, so the road was dry dirt again. I ran up a hill, reaching what looked like a grade school. Many dozens of young children ran to the side of the road. As I passed, they pointed and shouted, "Mzungu! Mzungu!"

I was glad to get back to the secondary school where the PCV's were staying.

Later in the day, Rita, another woman in the Peace Corps, and I took a bus to a small coastal city named Malindi. As we rode in our bus, we passed a broken bus stopped on the side of the road. Rita said that was the bus that went to her village. She hoped it would be working properly by the time she needed it again.

The three of us stayed in the Lutheran Guest House, which was a clean and pleasant place. It had running water, flush toilets, and electric lights.

On Tuesday, August 13, Rita and I wanted to go scuba diving. We both have Open Water Scuba certificates. Rita had informed me by letter to bring my papers. I had also done some diving in Cape Ann, Massachusetts to be up-to-date.

We needed to travel out to the resorts along the coast. We walked by various men shouting, "Taxi."

Unlike the men at the airport, these men did not block where I was trying to walk. We reached a large bus stop area. However, we did not take a bus. Instead, we got in a small, enclosed truck. (Fig. 20) Rita told me that these are called matatus. They are a popular way to travel around Kenya. Some matatus are pickup trucks with a tall cap mounted over the bed, while others were vans. The size varies.


Figure 20: An unoccupied matatu

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Something I noticed on all trucks in Kenya were two bright white-and-red reflective symbols painted on the back. Also, there was a sign painted on the back that read 80 kph, indicating the maximum speed that vehicle was legally supposed to go. The kph is kilometers per hour, so 80 kph translates to about 50 miles per hour. Passenger cars did not have these markings.

Rita told me that she does not like taking matatus. She told me that they often get overcrowded. In an accident with a matatu, there tend to be many casualties. However, the matatus are much cheaper to ride then a taxi, plus go where the bus routes do not.

The matatu took us about twelve miles to Watamu Beach. We got off at a hotel called Turtle Bay. We walked up to a sturdy gate that blocked the driveway. Without us saying a word, the black guard raised the gate and let us through.

Many of the people staying at the motel lounged around the swimming pool. All the guests looked white and all the workers looked black.

Rita and I tried to arrange scuba diving. We were told there were no scuba dives for the next few days. However, boats would be taking people out to snorkel. We decided to do that. We had to wait, because the boats would not head out until the low tide. The coral and fish were shallower then, which was beneficial when diving without a tank.

As we waited for low tide, a storm came in. (See Fig. 21) It grew cold. Rain fell. Waves pounded the shore. We gave up snorkeling plans for that day. During a lull in the storm, we left. Rather than taking a matatu again, we hitched a ride. The driver was an English mining engineer who had lived in Kenya since 1947.

Watamu storm

Figure 21: Dark clouds from a storm appear over the boats

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

Late in the afternoon when we were back at the Lutheran Guest House, the storm passed. It was too late to go back to try snorkeling. Instead, we walked to the closest beach. We did some wading in the Indian Ocean. (See Fig. 22) Large cargo ships traveled by.

Indian Ocean

Figure 22: Joel wading in the Indian Ocean

[Photograph by Rita Leary]

By early evening, I was suffering from diarrhea. I had tried to be careful with water, using iodine tablets in a canteen. I knew I had forgotten and used tap water to brush my teeth already during the trip. I had brought medication for this condition, but I did not want to go out for supper. Rita, another Peace Corps volunteer, and a native or two were hungry for more than light snack from the room, though.

T hey left, while I stayed in the room. Despite the discomfort, I was glad to be alone. While being alone with Rita was fine, the situation when around other Peace Corps Volunteers who loved to show their disapproval of where I worked had not improved.

The medication soon worked. While I did not feel good, I did feel better. I washed some clothes in the sink, then strung thin rope in the room. I hung the clothes to dry. I would never do that in a hotel in the United States, but in this place the floor was a cement slab.

I then read a paperback novel I had brought, but did not get far. I shut off the electric light, then fell into a deep sleep.

I woke to a pounding on the door. I looked at my watch. It was one in the morning. It was Rita and a female Peace Corps Volunteer. They said that the power had been out in town. Places had stayed open, but set out candles. They wanted to know if the power had gone off here. The power had been on when I went to sleep about four hours earlier. After that, I do not know about the power.

On Wednesday, August 14, I woke at 6:30 am. I felt refreshed, alert, and healthy. I got up. I jogged out to the beach. I ran twenty minutes in one direction, then came back.

The Lutheran Guest House had a common room where breakfast was served. My appetite had returned. I had scrambled eggs, toast, tea, and juice. I felt like I had not been sick the night before.

I sat and read my book for an hour or two, then Rita appeared. We checked out, then walked to the same large bus stop area where we had taken a matatu the previous day. This day, we boarded a large bus. It took us from Malindi to another coastal city named Mombasa.

When I got my backpack from underneath the bus, it was dirty. Having made the mistake before on this trip, this time I knew to wipe off the straps before putting it on to prevent soiling my shirt.

Rita took me to a travel agent in the big city of Mombasa, which is the second largest city in Kenya. Rita wanted to stay at a motel called the Ark, which is located in a game park. Near the motel are salt licks that attract animals. Unfortunately, the Ark had no vacancies for the entire time I was going to be in Kenya. The travel agent suggested similar places called Treetops and the Mountain Lodge, but they also had no vacancies. Rita and I were not going to be staying overnight at a game park.

After we left the travel agent, Rita took pity on a beggar. She was out of change, so I gave her some of my loose coins. In the United States, I do not give coins to panhandlers because I think most often is just used to buy alcohol. I prefer to do my giving through established charity organizations. However, this man had most of his fingers missing and a disfigured leg. He was a leper, and seemed very grateful for the coins.

Rita and I met up with a female Peace Corps Volunteer and a woman friend visiting her from the United States. The four of us boarded a train. The windows on the train had no screens. (See Fig. 23) I guessed correctly that people would try selling nuts and other things through the window at various train stops as had happened on the bus during bus stops. I was right. After various stops, we got off at a place called Voi.

Joel on train

Figure 23: Joel sitting on a train

[Photograph by Rita Leary]

It was late at night. There was not much of a moon and no streetlights. We searched for a place to stay the night. A man appeared in the gloom who might have been following us. We turned onto a road that had street lamps. The man went in a different direction and disappeared into the intense dark that hid him like a curtain.

The hotels called the Mole, the Jambo Guest House, the Uhura, and the Gloria all had no vacancies. Finally, we found a disco place that had rooms we could stay in behind it. Although it had running water and electricity, it was not a nice place like the Lutheran Guest House. Here, the toilet flushed, but you had to reach in the tank and lift a wire to make it work. There were puddles on the bathroom floor. Music drifted in from the disco. Yet, staying there was better than walking in the dark on roads that sometimes had no streetlights.

The disco shut down at midnight, which could have been worse as most of the bars stayed open later than that. I got some sleep.

At five in the morning on Thursday, August 15, the Moslem mosque across the street from the disco produced chanting over loudspeakers. It woke me, as it was loud. I wondered how it would have been before the age of electronic amplification when the sound came from what only a human being could produce. After some minutes, the chanting stopped. It took time, but I did manage to get a little more sleep.

Later in the morning, the four of us took a bus to the small, bustling city of Taveta. Rita said that she like this town because of the marketplace. Market days were Wednesday and Saturday.

Because this was Thursday and not a market day, we did not get transportation to Lake Chala, where we planned to camp that night. We decided to hike there. That would have worked, but we made a wrong turn. When we realized the mistake, it was too late to walk there before the sun went down.

We were at a sisal plantation. Sisal is used for making rope and perhaps other things. We stopped there. I waited outside with the gear as the three women went inside the main house to talk to Mr. Basil, the man who ran it. When the women came back out, they told me that we were not going to get a ride in a car. Mr. Basil would let us stay at the plantation, though.

We set up camp in the backyard of a house. I had a small tent for Rita and myself. I discovered the other two women had no tent, but did have a large mosquito netting that would normally hang over a bed. Because of the danger of getting malaria from a mosquito bite, most beds had these nets over them. In some of the hotels, these are not in good condition, with large holes that mosquitos can get through. Therefore, they had brought their own.

I had with me a clear plastic groundcloth about seven feet by seven feet. I normally put it underneath my tent. Before the trip, I had sealed the nylon floor of my tent with a waterproof spray, so the groundcloth was not really necessary.

The two women made a crude but functional tent out of my groundcloth and their mosquito net. I set up my own tent.

In the morning on Friday, August 16, Rita, the other two women, and I got a ride in a matatu. This one was crammed with people. A young boy sat on my lap. It got us close to Lake Chala.

We then walked up a steep dirt road. Along the road were trees filled with thorns. I was told that these were acacia trees. A branch snagged Rita's straw hat. I retrieved it.

At the top of the road, we could see the entire lake laid out in front of us, some distance below a hill that was so steep it was almost a cliff. The lake fills an old volcanic crater. (See Fig. 24) Rita explained that the center of the cone had collapsed, leaving the depression that formed the lake. The lake was nearly circular.

Lake Chala

Figure 24: Lake Chala

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

We decided to camp at the top of the hill. Rita stayed there to watch the gear, write in her journal, and read a book. The other two women and I went down a path to the lake. The water was clear and blue.

While we sat on the shore, we saw two men paddling a dugout canoe. The men came directly to us. The woman who was a Peace Corps Volunteer talked to them in Kiswahili. They showed her the fish they had caught and the crickets they used for bait. She purchased four fish.

Up close, I noticed the wood canoe had metal patches, perhaps aluminum, nailed on. I would have loved to get a photograph of that. However, not only was there the problem of not photographing natives, and they were in the canoe, but my camera was back at the top of the hill with Rita.

Later on, the three women prepared the meal. I tried to start the campfire. On the top of the hill, the wind was swift and variable. Heavy gusts kept putting it out. Rita acted like I was incompetent. She came over to show me how it was done. She carefully constructed the sticks with thin sticks in the center working out to larger sticks. She lit this. A gust put it out. She tried and failed many times. That made me feel better.

I suggested, "We could use fuel from my camp stove to get it going."

I had brought a small camp stove with me. Rather than using that, somebody then pulled out a can of lighter fluid. I do not know who had that. I wondered why it had not been brought out earlier. With it, Rita finally got the fire going. Once some coals formed, the fire kept burning.

The fresh fish cooked over a campfire was the best meal that I ate in Kenya. After the meal, the sunset over the lake was beautiful. (See Fig. 25)

Sunset at Lake Chala

Figure 25: Evening at Lake Chala

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

On the morning of Saturday, August 17, rather than make a fire again, I used my camp stove to heat water for instant coffee for the women and hot chocolate for myself. I have never been able to drink coffee without getting an upset stomach.

I noticed an enormous bug on my backpack. (See Fig. 26) It was not a spider, but I do not know what it was. It was about two inches long.

Big bug

Figure 26: A large insect on my backpack

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

After breaking camp, we walked to the road. The four of us hitched a ride in an empty dump truck. Like the English, the Kenyans call trucks by the name lorries. The lorry took us about a third of the way to town before they turned off onto a plantation.

The next ride we got was in a truck filled with bags of charcoal. (See Fig. 27) That truck went all the way into town. The charcoal was to be sold in the market. With the charcoal dust and the kicked up dirt from the road, we got filthy. It was fun similar to a young child playing in a mud puddle.

Coal truck

Figure 27: Rita and Joel in the back of a coal lorry

[Photographer unknown, but using Joel Kantís camera]

We reached Taveta, but this time it was market day. Fruit, vegetables, cloth, metal tools, sandals made from old car tires, and other things were for sale. Since I was carrying all my gear on my back, I was not tempted to buy a souvenir.

We encountered a variety of Peace Corps Volunteers there that day. The same problem happened where they knew where I worked from Rita having earlier told them. They already knew that it involved military projects. All the Peace Corps Volunteers I met seemed to already know of and disapprove of my employment. Yet, trying to obey what the Security Department had told me, I would not even confirm what they had heard from Rita. I wondered how much my presence in Kenya was hurting Rita's social standing with her peers. From how they were acting toward me, I guessed it was a great deal. To the other PCV's, because of where I worked, they seemed to regard me as a visiting villian!

Rita and I went to the train station. Without other Peace Crops Volunteers or their friends as chaperons on this trip, we took a train through Tsavo West Game Reserve. This was the closest we would get to a safari.

Through the window of the train, Rita saw many elephants moving in the distance. Unlike a zoo, there were no fences anywhere. I took a picture, but I did not have a powerful lens, so the elephants came out as unidentifiable dots. Rita looked radiantly happy after seeing the elephants.

I took out a pen and scribbled a note about the elephants. Rita excitedly told me to look up. Giraffes stood by the train tracks. Rita laughed as I quickly fumbled with the camera, but I got the picture. (See Fig. 28)


Figure 28: Giraffes watching the train go by

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

We changed trains in Voi, which we reached late at night. The train to Mombasa would leave at four in the morning. Something that surprised me is that the tickets for the Mombasa train would not go on sale until two in the morning. A little before two in the morning, I got up and went to the ticket window. Nobody was there. I stood and waited. At two minutes past two according to my watch, electric lights flickered on. Even though I was standing in front of the window waiting, I ended up third in the instantly formed line.

Rita managed to sleep on the train, but I did not.

Rita and I checked into the Skyway Hotel, which she had stayed in the night I had been trapped in Nairobi. We got a room with a private bathroom. I felt like a new person after showering and getting into clean clothes. This was the first shower I had since riding in the charcoal lorry to Taveta.

It was Sunday morning, August 18. Rita wanted to attend Mass at the nearby Roman Catholic church. I had been raised Catholic, but had stopped attending when an undergraduate in college for a variety of reasons. I went with her.

Open windows and electric fans suspended on wires above the pews provided relief from the heat. The music was played with many percussion instruments. One musician enthusiastically swung a device made from bamboo. The mass was recited in a language that Rita told me was Kiswahili. I understood little other than "Maria" for "Mary" and "alleluia," which was the same word. Despite the different music and a language I did not understand, the rituals were recognizable. The familiarity and understanding of the procedures relieved anxiety of which I had not even been aware.

After Mass, we visited to Fort Jesus. The Portuguese built it in 1593. The many corroded cannons used to protect the harbor. It looked similar to a castle, but the walls formed more of a starship shape. (see Fig. 29)

Fort Jesus

Figure 29: Fort Jesus in Mombasa

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

A narrow ledge ran on the inside wall of the fort. It had no guardrail on the open side. Rita walked along the ledge fearlessly. (See Fig. 30)

Rita on fort wall

Figure 30: Rita on a wall at Fort Jesus

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

We left the fort, then wandered into what was called simply Old Town. At a small stand, Rita wanted me to try a fruit drink called a Chuck Norris. The name made it sound like it had a kick to it.

I asked, "Is it alcoholic?"

"No," Rita answered, then explained that most of the people in Old Town are Moslem, so do not drink alcohol. The drinks at a stand like this were designed for those customers.

I tried it. It was a cold, thick mixture of many fruit juices and pieces of tropical fruit. It was excellent on that hot, sunny day.

We continued on. Old Town has many mosques. Rita wanted me to go in one. She explained that women were not allowed. I refused. She said that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Plus, she wanted me to report back on what I saw.

I told her I was not going in someplace that my traveling companion was not allowed in because of her gender. Rita pleaded with me as though I were merely making the choice to impress her. She mentioned problems with our own culture. While those exist just as she said, that did not alter my choice. Even without her approval or understanding, my choice was made.

Perhaps I did miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance as Rita indicated. I am typing this twelve years later. I have not had any contact with Rita Leary in eleven or twelve years. I do not regret the choice I made about the mosque. What she thinks of my choice has no bearing on it.

After that argument, we went for a walk along the ocean. We were in a large city and this was valuable real estate. We passed resorts and casinos. Rita wanted to stop at a casino. I told her I had no interest in doing so, but we could go if she wanted. She said that I could put a coin in a one-armed bandit just to say I had done it. I informed her that I would not play any of the games. I did not mind giving change to a leper, but not using it for this. If she wanted to pop in a coin, I was not going to supply it. However, Rita acted like she did not want to gamble herself, but wanted to watch me do it.

It seemed my behavior was offensive to her again. To explain, I told her of an Indian Casino, meaning native Americans on a reservation, that had gone in near Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, where I had grown up. Some people became addicted to the gambling and ruined their lives. It led to a couple my parents knew having a divorce due to the wife's gambling problem. I do not like casinos.

She seemed to not understand my attitude, or why it would apply to popping in just one coin. Few people in the U.S. understand either, but that does not bother me. If they want to gamble, I am not going to stop them.

I added that I do not even like state lotteries. The lotteries in Massachusetts were supposed to have saved the state from financial ruin. States across the union were rushing to have their own in 1991 with the profits supposedly going toward public school education, which is certain a good cause, but I still disapprove of them.

On Monday, August 19, we again took the bus from Mombasa to Malindi. After the bus, we traveled by matatu to the ruins of Gedi. These are the remains of a fifteenth-century town. As we wandered the eerie moss-covered ruins, monkeys screeched in nearby trees. Rita finally got to enter a mosque, or at least the ruins of one. (See Fig. 31)

Mosque ruins

Figure 31: The ruins of a mosque

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

On Tuesday, August 20, Rita and I took a matatu from Malindi to Watamu Beach. This is where we had been prevented from going snorkeling by an incoming storm exactly one week earlier. We again went to the hotel called Turtle Bay. We again hoped to go scuba diving. We were informed there would be no scuba diving for the next two days for reasons that were unclear to me. That would be too late for me.

We walked to another resort called Ocean Sports Hotel and tried there. We were told there would have been a dive that day, but the dive master had decided water was too choppy and muddy. However, there would be a boat going on a snorkeling trip. For that, we had to wait hours for low tide. We waited.

By the time the rolled out, Rita complained of being cold, so decided not to go. She said that I should go without her. She stayed behind at the hotel's restaurant. I went without her.

After riding in the boat for a while, we reached various buoys on ropes. The driver tied the boat to one of these. Other boats were tied to some of the other buoys. (See Fig. 32)


Figure 32: Various boats at the coral reef

[Photograph by Joel Kant]

The boat driver then got out masks and snorkels, but no fins. I did not use his gear. I had brought my own equipment all the way from Boston. It did not include an air tank, regulators, vest, or weight belt. I doubt an air tank would have been allowed on the plane. I had planned to rent those items. Like most scuba divers, I prefer my own mask, fins, and snorkel.

I put on my gear, then got in the warm water. It was clear and the waves fairly small. I do not understand why the scuba diving had been called off, unless conditions had calmed during the hours of waiting.

After distributing the equipment, the driver threw pieces of bread overboard. This attracted a crowd of fish to the boat. My fins gave me much better mobility than the other swimmers. I found the more colorful and interesting fish to be among the coral rather than getting bread from the surface. The brain coral had convolutions that make it look like a brain. I swam out to the end of the coral, where there was an abrupt transition to sand. I came back, swimming along large cracks in the coral. I disturbed a group of bright yellow fish.

Of course, I had to keep surfacing for air. To avoid that was why I wanted to be in scuba gear. Still, even with snorkeling, the sights under the surface were incredible. It was like swimming in an aquarium full of exotic, colorful fish. The sights were very different from the dull earth tone colors with an occasional silver fish that I had seen when diving in Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

I have no idea how much time had passed when the boat driver waved us back in. I had been enjoying myself so much that I had lost track of time.

After I climbed back on board, I put my gear in my blue shoulder bag. A man who told me he was British watched. He had used the mask and snorkel provided on the boat. He commented on how complete and nice my equipment was.

I explained, "I thought I would be doing scuba."

On Wednesday, August 21, Rita and I again tried to arrange a scuba diving trip. We were told that scuba diving had been canceled due to large waves. Once again, despite the waves, there would be a boat taking people out to snorkel.

We waited, then both went on it. Unlike the previous day where the waves had been small, there were respectable waves out at the coral reefs. The waves were not large enough to prevent snorkeling, though. Yet, I could appreciate how with extra gear for scuba like an air tank, the waves this day might cause issues.

Since Thursday, August 22, was my last day in Kenya, we could make no more attempts to go scuba diving. We took the bus from Malindi back to Mombasa, from where my plane would leave. Rita left her bags at the Lutheran Guest House in Malindi because she would return by that evening.

In Mombasa, we ran into Halib. Rita proudly told him that she had been in a mosque. He did not believe her, but I confirmed it. He thought for a moment, then asked if the mosque was still being used. He had figured it out. Rita explained about the ruins of Gedi.

Rita and Halib began discussing their upcoming trip to a city in Lamu that they would be making with other Peace Corps Volunteers. The Peace Corps Volunteers who were secondary school teachers still had a week of vacation. I was not part of that conversation. I felt out of place. After a while, Halib left.

Rita and I went to the rooftop bar and restaurant called the Splendid for my last meal in Kenya. About a half dozen Peace Corps Volunteers and their friends were there. One last time, I got treated as the bad guy for where I worked. Rita kept silent about that topic, a mysterious smile pasted on her face as she heard me being berated again for where I worked. As always, I could not even say where I worked, despite all the PCV's that I met seeming to already know, and greatly disapprove! I found myself irritated with her too. I was ready to leave the country.

After we had eaten, Rita and I found a taxi. It was only for me. She had to catch a bus. We said an awkward goodbye.

The flight from Mombasa to Nairobi went without incident. I switched to a different plane in Nairobi. That plane had a fuel leak, which caused a long delay. Eventually, I got to Frankfurt, Germany, then onto a 747 that took me to New York City's Kennedy Airport. I arrived five hours late. Of course, I had missed my connection.

Since I had to get a different flight anyway, I tried getting tickets to Baltimore. John Stilwell's wedding was the next day. Unfortunately, the flights to Baltimore were already overbooked. I was able to find an open seat on a flight back to Boston.

A few hours later, I was home.

I had grown tired of being treated as a villain for where I worked, so I never wanted to see Rita's friends again. I realized I also did not want to see her again. I felt this way even though I decided to start graduate school at The Ohio State University in January of 1992 to study Biomedical Engineering, which might not be an objectionable occupation to her friends as where I had been working at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. I wrote Rita a letter informing her that I did not need to see her again. I never told her where I was going to graduate school or what I would study there. I have had no contact with her since a letter either late in 1991 or very early in 1992.


Back to Joel Kant Home Page: Joel Kant Home Page.