A few weeks ago Jane and Angela invited me to join them for a day long trip to nearby Bungoma. It’s apparently a “large town” near the Uganda border, about 1.5 hours from here. And by large I mean they had at least 3-5 paved roads (we’ve only got one paved road running though our village) and had multiple large supermarkets (we don’t have any).
My favorite thing in Bungoma was this sculpture at the Sharrif Centre. I haven’t seen many public statues anywhere in Kenya, much less “cowboy playing guitar” themed statues. It felt like a little touch of home, like something we’d have in Austin, and it was great to see it in the middle of a little Kenyan town.
We happened to be in town the same day as a music festival sponsored by Trust, the country’s biggest condom company. I could care less about condoms since I’m not dating in Kenya, but I’m all about music festivals, so we paid the admission – a 10 Ksh ($0.15) box of three condoms – and went inside to see the DJs, live music, prizes and contests, famous comedians, and more.
For one of the contests, they wanted people to come on stage to answer questions, and since Jane and Angela were so encouraging, and since my mom’s a public health nurse, I considred it. Even if I wasn’t willing, I couldn’t have avoided it as the DJ on stage spotted me, the only mzungu
in the crowd, and sent guys from the stage to come collect me. So up I went to answer some questions.
It didn’t take long to figure out I’d been lured there under false pretenses. As it turns out, I unknowingly signed up for a surprise dance competition
between me and four other girls. Great. In the States I’d NEVER dance in a competition… I don’t even dance on stage at Neighbors during 80s night. But here I was in Bungoma, surrounded by strangers, so I thought “who’s really going to see me?” I like to dance, and I’ve got no shame when traveling abroad, so why not?
I did pretty well in the dance contest, especially considering I didn’t understand the rules outlined in Swahili. In other words, I got lots of cheering and wasn’t the first person voted off. Happily, it was over in less than 10 minutes and I got to return to the crowd where Angela and Jane were waiting for me. And I won a brand new Trust t-shirt and Trust baseball cap which is pretty entertaining. (Not sure if I can wear a condom t-shirt around my village while working with the Sisters… would that promote promiscuity or public health? I think it’d be a positive message, but that’s just me).
As for the question of “Who’s really going to see me?”….
- Later in the day, far from the festival, little kids ran up to me and started talking quickly in Swahili. From past experience, I automatically assumed they were asked for money so out of habit I say in Swahili “I’m very sorry”. Upon listening though, they had actually said “We saw you dancing!! We saw you dancing!!” to which I apparently, self deprecatingly, replied “I’m so sorry.” Oh, Cat. Poetic justice.
- Also later in the day, far from the festival, I had Kenyan men walk up to me and wink at me. That’s the first time that’s happened since arriving in Kenya.
- And now, three weeks after the concert, I just got a text message from a friend in Nairobi who has a TV. She writes, “I have enjoyed seeing you dance on the television some where in Bungoma town at a TRUST CONDOM sponsored event.” What?! Yes, after the contest was over I went down to the front of the crowd to join Angela and Jane and realized there were tons of guys with cameras, including a few with video cameras. But c’mon! Did she hear the gossip and decide to play a joke on me? Did she really see me on TV? I don’t know, but I was highly entertained to see her text message.
The moral of the story is never trust your friends to shield you from public embarrassment.
On the way home, I was happily distracted from the contest as I kept seeing tons of recently circumcised boys wander by, a cultural phenomenon that happens in Bungoma every August. Most boys were painted white, many wore cloth wraps instead of trousers to prevent chaffing on their sensitive parts, and many carried sling shots or other gifts as a token of their new manhood.
I didn’t get many pictures through the bus window, but I did think this boy, carrying a whip and wearing a beaded wrap, had a pretty cool look as far as recently circumcised attires goes.