Welcome to Isebania

It’s been a crazy week. I got mistaken for a missionary (twice) and had to awkwardly explain that I wasn’t even Christian. I got offered a room with a glass door and the word “Lounge” written across said glass door in Nairobi, and had to politely explain why that was weird. My bus from Nairobi to Isebania stopped around 30 minutes before reaching (what I thought) was the final destination. Thankfully, a nice nun-in-training helped explain to me that the driver just stops and pays for you and your luggage to get a matatu (micro-bus) to the final destination. 2 days ago I suffered all malaria symptoms, and went to a clinic to get tested. Results were negative (sigh of relief,) it’s only a nasty stomach virus which apparently is like a right of passage thing.

I have a ton of blog-worthy stories about work, and fun stories like how some co-workers told me the “locally” brewed beer (Changa) cures typhoid, but might destroy your eyesight. However, I’m starting with a blog that just lays out context for all future blogs so here we go.

Rural Kenya

So, I’ve been telling everyone I’m moving to rural Kenay with Nuru International and I think it’s about time I stop referring to my new home as “rural Kenya.”

So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Isebania! The place that a non local would know only if : a) they were a missionary or b) they work for an NGO -that’s according to every single person I spoke to between Nairobi and my new full time residence at Nuru house.

About Isebania

Here’s a map of Kenya with Isebania highlighted.

Map of
My new home: Isebania, Kenya.

We’re a 20 minute walk from Tanzania, a 7 hour bus ride to Nairobi, a 5 hour bus ride to Kisumu and 2 hour drive from Kisii (the closest red dot, which more importantly also happens to hold the closest Nakumatt (Kenyan superstore, which will feature in future blogs.)

I live in what is referred to as “Nuru House” with 10 other expats. Here are a couple of pictures of the house so you get the picture. I’ve had to learn to co-exist with all kinds of fun “creatures,” and I now think of geckos as an excellent pet that scares away other insects.

Nuru House
Nuru House
Multi-Purpose Table
Multi-Purpose Table
Lower House Deck
Lower House Deck

Transportation

There is only one road here, which is the road you would use to cross the border. Otherwise, there are dirt roads for things like hospitals and schools and then just natural raw land.(I wasn’t kidding about the remote rural location.)

The main or rather only means of local transportation here is a “boda” or a “piki,” which is a low budget dirt bike (I’ll get some pictures later.) A 20 minute ride costs around 50 cents and boda drivers are crazy resourceful. In one week here, I’ve seen them attach my giant suitcases, a large aluminum pot full of hot pasta alfredo, Eggs and over 20 Kg of vegetables and that’s usually in addition to me……

It took me 3 rides to go from being terrified of bodas to asking Charles (the trusted expat boda driver,) for driving lessons.

Food

3 tomatoes are around 20 cents and an avocado is around 10-15 cents. Kale is the local lettuce. Refrigerators are rare, so if you want any type of meat, you need to go the butcher the day of the kill or learn to butcher animals yourself. Needless to say, I’m becoming a semi-vegetarian.Dairy products are also rare because of the same refrigeration issue. For water, people dig shallow wells or use the closest questionable stream.

I already know I hate ugali (maize mixed with water to form a hard dough) and love chipati ( sort of like fried naan.)

Community

Everyone here is a subsistence farmer and grows maize to feed their family during the long rains (Feb-Sep) and sometimes a cash crop (in this area, it’s tobacco), during the short rains (Oct-Jan.) All irrigation is done solely through rain. There’s zero power/water infrastructure so farmers are dependent on the fertility of their lands and the whims of the universe. This year the universe has been cruel and there has been a drought, and just to be clear, in an area like this drought=famine.

As you would expect, women are second class citizens here. Women were not allowed to legally own land up to 2009 and upholding the law remains a bit tricky. When you ask some of the guys at work about their kids, some of them would only count their male offspring.

Mazungos or “white people” which I have now re-defined to “non-local,” are a rarity. When locals here see Mazungos, they would actually yell out “Mazungo” at you and start waving. Others would yell “Mazungo, how are you?” or all kinds of Swahili greetings that I am yet to decipher.

Being called a Mazungo was probably one of the weirdest experiences of my life…… People  expect you to learn KiSwahili and KiKuria (the local dialect,) so wish me luck! We all know I’m not exactly gifted with languages.

Everyone wakes up around 6.30 and our house goes into lock down at 6 pm and no one here has a smart phone! Next blog will definitely be about my new sociological experiment that is life without a smart phone…

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Published by

Rana El Hattab

I care about local government, development, Africa, women's rights, the Middle East, traveling, Sci-Fi & the beach. Closet introvert obsessed with traveling. Realistic optimist with a sense of humor. On a more serious note: Strategy and implementation specialist with extensive experience in non-profit and technology sectors. Demonstrated track record of managing projects and building partnerships in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Trained in policy planning and design, agile project management, statistical analysis, activity based budgeting and financial modeling.

9 thoughts on “Welcome to Isebania”

  1. Oh my! You really have a low & insulting opinion about Kenya, which begs the question…why the hell are you there? Its like the way Americans & Britons keep issuing all kinds of negative travel alerts against Kenya yet they are chicken-they dont have guts to close their embasses and get the hell outta there! Dude, rural Kenya is fun, you’ll enjoy it more if you shed off those negative attitudes against “backward” africans…coz yes, thats how you sound here. Karibu Kenya Mzungu 🙂

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  2. 1# I’ll 2nd Dorcas – Mississippi, Alabama or to some remote american indian reserve would appreciate your “missionary” work.

    2# If the jungle fever has infiltrated your system (you’re not the first) learn a few some basic things. Mzungu not Mazungo is an insult. Muzunguzungu is Kiswahili for a dizzy person – wikipedia. It has the same literally meaning as – Pinkie – Bule – Cracker – Gubba – Honky – Mangia cake etc. Rural folks knowingly use the term it to “butter” pink faces, eurotrashies, western rejects running around Africa desperate for redemption to earn a quick buck … but your never learn, do you?

    3# Want me to go on?

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  3. Hellow, nice to learn there is expat village near Kisii/Ahero. I love that area, live not too far from there. I am a Kenyan British working in South Sudan with great interest in that part of the world. The Isebania corridor as they call it (Isebania-Kisii-Ahero) is one of the most beautiful places in Kenya with unparalleled opportunities in the future. As you move away from great rift valley to anywhere (perhaps in all directions), nature is amazing. Enjoy our beautiful country Kenya.

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  4. Just getting some facts straight its not mazunguzungu its kizunguzungu which is dizziness and mzungu is not a deragotory word its just plain whiteman like a chinese called mchina or arab mwarabu. the streamwater or bore hole is clean been drinking it since i was a kid and believe i have not had stomach bug out of it.

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