On the morning of my second full day in Kenya, we gave a call to the British Airways luggage office and received good news. One of the bags had arrived the night before and would be delivered to the hotel that day. Whether it would be my bag with the changes of clothes I was beginning to think more seriously about or whether it would be the bag of clothes and gifts for Seth, they couldn’t say.
The bag never arrived.
We fooled around in Nairobi for the day, and since this was a Sunday, none of the banks were open to cash my traveler’s checks. At the exchange bureaus “the system” was still down, so I had no luck there either. Fortunately, my sister had plenty of Kenyan shillings on hand, so I sponged off of her. When we returned to the hotel that evening, I noticed these elevator buttons for the first time. Seth said this was more or less typical of everything in Kenya, and I was beginning to believe him. (Sorry about the poor quality of the photo.)
On the morning of the third day, we received a call saying that one of the bags was on the way to the hotel, but could we please give the driver directions to get there? No, actually, we could not since we were stangers in this place. I was told that I would have to sign for the bag when it arrived, so, like fools, we sat around the hotel all day long, waiting. The bag finally arrived at about 3:30 in the afternoon. This was a handy thing since we had to get to the train station in a couple of hours to catch our night train to Seth’s rural province, and it was good to have some luggage anyway.
Alas, it was not my clothing but the bag of goodies for Seth.
And no one asked me to sign anything.
Now having worn the same clothes for three days straight, I embarked on the train portion of our trip. Seth was pleased with all of the clothes and toys and western foods I had brought him, and I was pleased that he was pleased. But it was on this train that I got the call from home saying that Libby had to have the emergency heart surgery. She insisted I should finish the remainder of my trip, but you don’t stay married to someone for 27 years without being able to read between the lines.
I resolved then to get back to Kansas City as quickly as it could be arranged, which wasn’t very quickly, it turned out.
I slept poorly on the train, as you might imagine. I thought the gentle rocking would lull me to sleep, and it might have if the train hadn’t stopped every twenty minutes to take on or drop off passengers. Plus the ever-present and permeating smell of the diesel exhaust from the engine assaulted my nostrils the entire night. Seth and my sister made the same complaint in the morning.
The morning did not deliver us to Kisumu, the capital of Seth’s province. We didn’t arrive there until about mid-day, which happened to be Kenyan Independence Day. This meant — you guessed it — the British Airways office there was not open, so I couldn’t make any changes to my tickets then.
Despite the troubles at home, this may have been a good thing. Had I been able to turn around and dash to Nairobi then, I would not have been able to visit Seth’s village and see where he lives and works.
Once we were there I wished my trip thusfar had been turned around. Instead of three days in Nairobi and only one day in his village, I should have organized a flip.
Seth lives in a perfectly adequate house made of concrete blocks. He as four rooms plus a washing area and a “choo” (which is a room with a hole in the floor that you can poor buckets of water into when you need to). Sometimes he has running water. Most of the time he has electricity. His roof keeps him dry. His house is better than most of the others in his village (with the exception of the Catholic bishop’s house, which is a western-style mansion as well as a source of puzzlement for Seth who sees the incongruity of it). The villagers don’t seem to resent Seth’s better accommodations because it is a well known fact among them that we Westerners are soft and unaccustomed to living in the real world. (That really is true on so many levels.) Even so, Seth had to open four locks before we could enter his house. And within the house, every door to every room was locked as well.
We had a fine dinner at his neighbor’s house that evening. Their extended family lives in a sort of compound with at least four houses that I could count. Great grandmother — who is a vigorous 92 years old — lives in a mud and grass hut and seems delighted to have such a fine place. Though she had not a word of English, she shook our hands gleefully and didn’t want to let go. All of the children in the extended family ran around us and considered us a great novelty, and I won their affection by taking pictures of them with my digital camera then showing them the result on the screen. I intend to print those pix and send them to Seth to give to the families.
Eventually we retired for the evening in Seth’s house, and he graciously gave up his bed for me, sleeping on some couch cushions on the hard floor. The next morning we had breakfast with the deputy headmaster at his school. I didn’t get the details, but she seems to be a single parent with at least two children, one of whom has cerebral palsy. Her home was far less fancy than Seth’s, yet she welcomed us into it and fed us well.
Then it was time to get back to the provincial capital and see about getting me home.
- Orion, Taurus and other winter constellations are visible.