Benja, his ma and I took a trip to rural Kisii, which is Northeast of Nairobi near the border with Tanzania, to visit extended family. We took a five hour bus ride from Nairobi through the Rift Valley to reach the mountainside farmland.
It was near dark by the time we got there and met up with a friend for a ride to ma’s childhood home, still the home to her elderly mother who is taken care of by her youngest son at the family compound, as is traditional practice.
The friend drove us through very dark countryside around 8pm, and a constant stream of people walked along the road on both sides. We left the paved road and tested the off-road abilities of the Toyota Corolla – which are not great. We drove over terrifying ruts dried into the red mud until we finally came upon a steep embankment lined with dirty children in the dark, and came to a stop. The kids greeted us and each of them shook my white hand in the dark and stared at me. We followed them through tall grass and stubby trees and past corn and around ruts until we reached a large hut with sheet-metal roofing, the light from its doorway shining out across the field.
We were taken inside and I was startled to find an empty room – dark except for a small fuel lamp on the wooden table and several battered old chairs. The walls were freshly covered with red clay and the darkness gave the empty space a warm feeling. We all waited for grandma to come and greet Benja, and eventually a small old woman appeared in the dark room and shook our hands, speaking only her native tongue – Kisii.
She sat for awhile to talk to her grandson, Benja, and then we took some photos while the children lined the wall in the dark and looked on. Grandma shook my hand again and held it, saying a blessing for me – that I should become old like a banana tree until the tree is so old it’s top branches must be propped. I thanked her profusely for the sweetest prayer that has ever been said for me, and studied her wrinkled face and held her small, cold boney hand.
Eventually, our short, night-time visit came to an end, and they all walked us back to the Corolla and received took the gifts we had brought back to the compound. I gave the children some candy I had brought, and they devoured it and tossed the wrappers on the red road.
Later, we arrived at the extended family’s home at which we would stay the night. I couldn’t figure out why it smelled so strongly of cows – until I sat to take my dinner and looked out the kitchen door to find that the cow’s stall was literally steps away. The family owned three cows and used their milk profusely, which I decided to avoid. The paint chipped off of the walls. Three children sat on the tattered old couch and watched my every move as flies and mosquitos swarmed and the TV showed a fuzzy image of a news program about matatu drivers striking. The mother nursed the youngest, an 8-month old baby who was getting over malaria. I went to brush my teeth and found no sink in the cold bathing rooms, though there was a toilet that didn’t flush with half of the seat broken off, so I spat down the floor drain. I crawled onto the top of a bunk bed in the girl’s tiny room and tried to decipher the meaning behind the etchings on the door which read – “Ghetto Passy” and tried to be less incredibly uncomfortable and more understanding and thankful.
I slept poorly and worried about the holes in the mosquito net.