Some challenges - from a mzungu perspective

 Today I am tired. After a month of enthusiasm, sparkling energy and renewed happiness, today I feel tired. Well, It could be for many reasons... and I would love to have someone opinions if you can bear with me along this post!

The rainy season has started, pouring a huge amount of water on our heads. This is actually a good news: the seasonal rains were very late, making people worried about drought and the fate of their crops. But now it is raining, intensely, majestically, for days. Roads turned into a mush of red mud and the sky is like a boxing ring where blue is fighting spaces over scary, black clouds. Could this interfere with my mood? I am not sure. It is actually quite romantic being here, in front of the laptop, with the light on and the melodic ticking of water drops all around me. It reminds me of summer storms in Italy, when after a long day of burning heat the sky is exploding in tears of rain.

I am tired, and I am tired and tired. 

Days in Langas are long. We move around the slum for kilometers, speaking with people and interacting in a way that the pandemic made me forget. People, people who talk, walk, work, pray, sing, and call me mzungu definitely too many times in a day. People who are sources of richness and insights for my research, people who struggle in their everyday life. People who deserve attention. My attention.

When the sun is out, it is bursting hot - and thus suncream, and hat, and water, because I am just a mzungu in the end, and I still need to build up my resilience to the African environment - If I don't want sunstroke, sunburn and other "collateral effects".

Movements are slow and somehow difficult - especially with the rains and the poor road planning of the slum.

And then there is the curfew, and many other restrictions you have to think about anytime you go out - mask, sanitize, contact tracing. "What if? oh my god, I feel to sneeze, maybe I am hot, I should check my temperature! maybe its Covid - no, I am vaccinated, but maybe it is still covid, or Malaria".

In all this, I came to Kenya alone. Stubbornly, for sure, as I couldn't cope with another delay. But alone, in a moment when socialising is rediscussed and done in tip-toes all over the world. 

This month has been amazing and I loved every moment of it. But possibly, it has been more challenging than I thought. Days shrunk with all the things to do, with all the priorities to tackle. With the project to be started. I had to understand where things were in Eldoret. How to get my food, and my water, especially. I had to understand how to move, where to go, and where not to go. I had to pray for a stable internet connection, which is almost a mirage. I was missing my dears, but trying to ignore it because there is nothing I can do, right?

I had to understand how to speak, how to interact, and lots of other cultural norms that no, they don't come in the manual of the perfect anthropologist. I also needed to except to be excluded when the discussion went into Kiswahili.

Also, I had to cope with many fears - of being stigmatised for being white, and thus carrying the virus; of being excluded; of not being accepted by the community where I am working; of being misperceived in the aims of my research.

Researching in Covid times is, even more, a difficult process, a puzzle of fears, restrictions, expectations and priorities. And often priorities of locals people don't match with the best aims I could have for my research. People want to live, and they struggle every day to get food and to put a meal together for their kids. Sometimes I wonder myself if Household Air Pollution should be a priority for them as it is for me and my research.

Ultimately, I am a mzungu, and in the last weeks I had to cope with another issue. The one of being misperceived at a professional and at a personal level. Misperceived in my intentions, in my way of speaking, of dressing, of approaching people. In my reasons for being in Kenya and in the actual purposes of my research. In my financial availabilities - because Mzungu have money, and they must pay.

I found this as the hardest challenge. People do not discriminate against me here, but some definitely have stereotypes. And the fact that there are very few mzungus in town at the moment made me feel like if I was taking this up for all the mzungus.

The basic problem is that some people expect things from me - from us. Money, progress, future, possibilities, development, salvation, excitement, sometimes visas. 

And the problem is positioning. It is being able to explain, to clarify in a way that does not keep fuel these stereotypes. I tried to look at it from different angles, but I still don't have a reply nor a solution.

I think this relation of black VS white, well, it is completely rediscussed when "you are trying to help them at their home" cit. 

This relation, well it entangles years and years of domination, of colonisation, of exploitment, of promises (broken, mostly), of expectation, of showing off what we had and they didn't. Of fostering the Western model as the gold standard for happiness. Of pretending we always had the solution for Africa. Of presenting knowledge, science, technology (our science, knowledge, and technology) as the best one. Of calling our world "developed" and theirs "developing". Of coming here with money and afford what they couldn't. Of living over the culture, over the religion.

Sometimes, when I go out and interact, all this comes into my mind. And I struggle in position myself. I don't know what is the right thing to do. 

It is not always like this, and I may be exaggerating as a result of a bad day. Maybe, I should just accept that "it is what it is".

But I don't know, today I feel tired, and I thought that for the sake of honestly, I should share this in the blog. You may have seen me happy, and radiant, and full of joy for the last month. I am, indeed. But I don't want to make people think everything is okay, everything is fun, everything is exciting while being abroad during the pandemic. That here is like "normal life", and it is all easy and straightforward. I don't want to fuel this idea that I am just ALWAYS doing great because I was lucky enough to travel. I don't want to show a contrived reality like the one in the movies. 

I am sure some of you may think that I just shouldn't complain at all. I am lucky - true, and I had the privilege of traveling - true, and to do what I like. So, as a disclaimer, I would like to say that this is not a complaint, this is a pure, authentic, and disinterested stream of consciousness to show my life "without filters". To look beyond the surface of excitement and to acknowledge fatigue, tiredness, discouragement and sometimes frustration - which are normal here as they are normal back in Europe. And it is also a way to say and to proudly support the fact that sometimes "it is okay not to be okay"!


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