Thursday, March 29, 2007


kenyan news factoid

at 7pm there is news in Swahili, at 9pm there is news in English.
When they use clips of interviews, they never translate from Swahili to English or English to Swahili. So if, during the 9pm news, they show clips of Kenyans relating a matatu accident or talking about regional politics, it’s going to be in Swahili and you just have to try to figure out what is going on. And, if during the 7pm news, they show a clip of Richard Branson visiting Kenya and talking to the news or a politician during a press conference, then it’s just going to be in English and everyone is just assumed to understand enough English to handle it.

You know, the thing about writing a blog from Kenya is that I feel like I get to include extremely mundane things like this, because they are mundane things that folks not in Kenya don't necessarily know.


Something New

Well, go figure. If I slant my TV’s rabbit ears just right, and I am in a patient mood which allows for static and sound and sight going out with a loud ZBBBSHT a couple times a minute, I can get a 3rd television station.

Up to now, I’ve been able to get KTN - owned by the Standard Group, which has not so great news coverage (all Kenyan politics, all the time) and shows 2 different dubbed Spanish-language soap operas, some season of 24 (not sure which), the horrific American show “Threat Matrix” starring the hunky plumber/spy dude from Desperate Housewives as he fights threats from Al-Qaida and eco-terrorists, and a Kenyan political talk show on Thursday evenings which I LOVE because it is the only forum in which there is discussion about issues of concern and policy in this country (and for a while, Angel came on afterwards. that’s right - the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off. I didn’t even know what was going on and it was awesome. But that’s over now) - and I’ve been able to get channel 5, which shows uninspired American, Tanzanian, and Kenyan rap and hip/hoppish music videos all the time. Both of these channels are somewhat fuzzy.
But NOW, now I can get a new channel, which shows:
Al Jazeera (English language) during the day time
Voice of America during the night time

So, of course, the first question is what the heck is up with this station? Not that the two programs are polar opposites, but they are not the most likely pair.

And the second question, is exactly what kind of spin am I being thrown when I watch Al Jazeera news? I mean, don’t get me wrong, in my 2 days of viewing I've become a big fan of their news programs. Brings some balance to my previous news diet of BBC Radio. But still, reporting the news is always done through a cultural filter, right? I’m no media analyst (whoo nelly, i certainly am not), but I think that “objective” or “neutral” news coverage is impossible. So what exactly is going on with Al Jazeera English language news service? Who is the targeted audience?

They had a whole piece on women being discriminated against in Afghanistan, and how completely backward and unacceptable this is, using very strong, critical language. So, um, what’s up with that? And they just did a piece on the rise of right-wing politics in Poland, and promise to do another tomorrow in somewhere in Europe (Ireland? I forget) that was fairly balanced but clearly thought the right-wing political groups were up to No Good. When they do a piece on Iraq or anything at all that Bush says or does and it comes across pretty much like ABC or NBC when they do a piece regarding the Iranian president - somewhat balanced, but with scathing commentary from analysts and with certain phrases.

I’ve heard that Al Jazeera is quite liberal within the world of Arab news. Does anyone have experience with English language Al Jazeera? What’s up with them?

Anyways, I’m just so darn pleased. I just got back from a really intense 3 day workshop, and I want to sit and watch TV (and apparently fart out a blog), and at this time of the day usually my only choice would be “Tyra,” the Tyra Banks talk show, which I’ve seen a few times and which always gets under my skin. She really likes manufacturing moments of shared intimacy with her guests, and it always feels So Awkward to me, although apparently not to Tyra. Tyra. And her ability to go from concerned face to cheery face way too fast. And her multiple clothes changes in the course of one episode.

They are showing a clip of Bush talking right now. He just said “precipitous withdrawal” and he sounded somewhat ridiculous. Now he did the head bob that makes him seem arrogant. Now they have a live interview with a Rear Admiral in Baghdad. I mean, dude! That’s pretty open of them. The admiral has a “great deal of confidence in the president.” The interviewer has a british accent. I can’t tell if he is of “arab” origin, because the screen ain’t that clear. Admiral says it is premature to talk about precipitous withdrawal. How did this phrase become the one that is used? Seems like there are lots of other adjectives that could be used.

Sorry. Rambling. Hooray for 3rd television station!! Hooray for multiple news sources! Oh, they just showed a really good short commercial showing the numbers of landmines in various countries (point at the end: Al Jazeera shows “multiple sides, multiple angles”). Really well done.

Well, that’s all from here. No pithy conclusions.
New slogan for 2007: 'ought seven is nifty; ain’t going to be so pithy.
I think I’ll go eat some bread and go to sleep.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007



After a few months of being in Kenya, I started having a very specific reaction when I watched an American movie. There would always come a moment when I would suddenly be really stressed out and feel like things were wrong, and then I would realize that all the cars were driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and I should just calm down because certainly no one in the movie was having a problem with it.

I recently noticed that I’ve added a new trigger. Last night I saw Music & Lyrics, and i noticed I was having the stressed-out, red-lights-blinking, something-is-wrong reaction. And then I realized why: people were walking in and out of Hugh Grants apartment casually because the deadlock wasn’t engaged (I looked at the door when it was open, and it wasn’t the kind that you can open from the inside but not the outside). Inside my head was the blaring message: “LOCK THE DOOR! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LOCK YOUR DOOR! YOU STUPID, STUPID PEOPLE!”

And this is why I think I’ve been in Nairobi for too long, and I need to get OUT of the city SOON. Just for a few days. Cities. Man. I mean, I like Nairobi, but yeesh.


um, America?

I guess I’ve missed more than I thought I had. Lately it has come to my attention that things appear to be really different in America than they were 1 year ago. For example, I hear that the war in Iraq is on the news every day, and is constantly referred to, and that US citizens now feel that they are “at war.” (we were just gearing up to that when I left, as I remember it at least, but it was still somewhat ignored/swept under the rug) I think it is a good thing, except for the sort of mindless patriotic devotion that being “at war” tends to inspire. (I should say that I really don’t have a feel for the atmosphere in the States these days. I just heard that the war is in the news and on the minds of America from some friends who – for very strange reasons – have been able to watch Nightly News with Brian Williams every night from their computer in southern Sudan).

Also, apparently there is a movie called 300? I should explain: I am currently waiting for some other people to read a document so we can go over it together, and my brain is moderately fried, so I thought I would read some BBC news. 300? the biggest opening weekend ever in the US? And Iranians are extremely not happy at the portrayal of thousands of mean Persians getting whooped by 300 white guys. Now, how did this become the largest opening weekend ever, is what I’m wondering. Seriously. What does that mean?

And what’s this about Simon Cowell being bigger than Bruce Springsteen? The BBC said that he said that he is a bigger deal than the Boss and should get 5 times as much money. And that he sells lots more albums.


ps - I saw the preview for 300 the other day and I am now, if anything, MORE confused than I was before. Apparently the special effects are innovative and cutting edge, but they seemed pretty just not that great to me. Also, 300 huge white guys in metal speedos? Why are they so naked? I would feel vulnerable. I mean, I realize that America is feeling vulnerable and like there are no “successes” in Iraq, and I suppose this movie represents an opportunity for Americans to temporarily feel like righteous underdogs (instead of impotent overlords) who get to slaughter thousands of Iranians (or their ancient equivalent) with impunity and feel good about it. But are record numbers of Americans really searching that out? I thought record numbers were turning against the war. Again, confused.

Monday, March 19, 2007


kwa Bidii!

Generally, when I am out and about I try to use what Swahili I have. And, generally, Kenyans are surprised that I know any at all. So many of the white folk in Nairobi don’t know any, and then I suppose those who do know some don’t necessarily use it in Nairobi, where you can usually get by with English.

When I’m talking to people for the first time, they generally ask (or state) that I am learning or have learnt Kiswahili, and my response generally is “Ninajaribu!” (I am trying.) Having celebrated my 1 year anniversary in Kenya last Friday, I took some time for reflection, and it occurred to me that I haven’t really been trying to work on my Swahili all that hard of late. In fact, I’ve managed to forget some of what I learned when I first arrived. And, looking back, I definitely had thought that I would know more than I do after one year.

So I’ve instituted some changes.
1) on Friday I accidentally struck up a conversation with the 2 night guards, and they are delighted that I am trying to learn Swahili, as they are trying to learn English. We ended up standing by the gate and talking for at least a half hour in more or less Swahili (easy topics, though: I walk to work, I do not have a car, I do not really have money to buy a car, I wash my clothes myself, yes I have a “man” and although he is now in America he is going to join me here (this was the first time in a while that I’ve handled the “do you have a man” question in Swahili, so I used the old version, as opposed to my new and updated version in which my man is Canadian and is working in Tanzania but hoping to come soon. It’s a bit harder with the guards, because they keep track of everyone who visits me, so I can’t use the ol’ Yes I am Married line). I’m predicting that those conversations will continue, which will be good so long as I can manage to keep transmitting the clear message of I Have Boundaries No I Will Not Sleep With You.

2) Word of the Day! This is my third day of having a ‘word of the day.” Today’s is “kwa Bidii” – with diligence, or diligently As in, “Ninafanya kazi kwa Bidii” – I am doing work with diligence.
Bidii-ish today. So far I have visited all of my Kenyan colleagues at their desks to announce “Ninafanya kazi kwa Bidii!”; I’ve printed out lots of things I should read but I haven’t actually read any of them; I’ve gone to the library to return a book (another Lord Peter Wimsey mystery!) and pick out a book (short stories by Ken Saro-Wiwa); I’ve taken ½ an hour to compose an email to a farmers organization while simultaneously reading a movie review about Music and Lyrics, which I somehow ended up seeing this weekend (some excellent infectious 80s pop songs were written for the movie, so I enjoyed it despite the fact that hugh grant and drew barrymore completely failed to work their charm on me); and now I am actually writing a blog. I do get some credit for having gone to the library and writing this blog during my lunch hour. But since I haven’t actually eaten my lunch yet, chances are that the hour shall extend past its established temporal limits. tsk tsk.

Well, I think it’s okay - it’s Monday and I’m tired (nimechoka sana) and there aren’t many things that are extremely pressing to be done. At least, not extremely pressing.
So, Tufanye kazi kwa Bidii! (Let us do work diligently) I, for one, am going to diligently eat my sandwich and read the newspaper so I’m caught up on the political machinations that happened over the weekend. Onward, ho!

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