This past weekend has been amazing, what Mrs. Mwangi would call a “vacation before the real work”. In thinking about the excitement that accrued, I consider a beautiful quote from Abi Joy: “You’re experiencing the kid’s world, taking it in on their terms, so honor these experiences and use them to step into their world”. So consider a bus ride through Nyeri, a day at the local market situated right on the equator, watching Mount Kenya emerge from the clouds in the distance, gathering around lunch and dinner for powerful poetry sharing and conversations, and of course, traveling on a famous safari trail. This was our weekend.
Before I divulge, however, I wanted to share a quick comment on the culture we find ourselves immersed in. What intrigues me the most (with the exception of the weather that alone, makes me long for another few weeks here) is the both the atmosphere we’ve stepped into as well as the general open and very welcoming nature of the Kenyan people. What they call “African time” here endorses a sense of easy-going calmness with the way life moves. Furthermore, I feel as if wherever I go, the smiles that greet me are like open arms, shouting “Karibu, Noni, welcome my dear!” The warmth is addictive, and the sense of comfort that is shared by the community finds me at every corner, at every bar, in the classroom, on the roadside. What an interesting aspect of the culture.
It’s my experience at the market that inspired the title of this blog. It was Saturday, and we pulled up to a group of small shops that sat right on the equator line. We were greeted by a rush of shopkeepers throwing at us all sorts of salutations with the intention of selling their items first. The constant bartering over prices was a bit exciting, but exhausting as well, and gave me a glimpse at what it must be like to bargain for food and other items of necessity on a weekly basis here on the rural lands of Nyeri. As an outsider, there was a kind of internal battle I had to contend with in attempting to cut deals and pay little to nothing for hand-made pieces of art, jewelry, and other accessories while considering at the same time that, because the average Kenyan in Nyeri makes about 250 shillings a day (as we were told), the prices we were being asked to pay for the merchandise were quite high. Somewhere in all of this, I struck the balance between the villager’s whispers by the door of each shop “she’s tough” and Rich, the doctor’s comments, “you’re too nice!” and really tried to make the most of this experience. At my last stop, this quiet, but rather assertive brown-skinned shopkeeper who had just sold me my last few items thanked me for stopping by his particular shop, flashed me a warm smile, and addressed me as “sister from another mother”. What an interesting title! There were two connotations of the phrase I could think of, the first of these being the literal meaning of my name (which interestingly enough comes from the name “Mathuni” or “shy In-law”). The second aspect was more of a reference to “sister” being the lost one, the African American from across the seas. I recall this Kenyan man rolling up his sleeve and placing his arm next to mine to compare skin color. “You see?” he said to me, “You are sister from another mother”. It is true, interpretation can sometimes be lost on the interpreter, however, I truly felt a sense of endearment of some kind that I had not anticipated before coming here.
Of course, there is the safari to mention that carried us into the last day of our “break”. The energy at Sweetwater was fantastic- the lodging, the food, the people, the landscapes, and though I am not an animal person, I have to include the wildlife! Imagine: pulling up to this lodge and glimpsing two large waterholes in your backyard with a few giraffes off to the right, some zebras somewhere in the distance, and a water buck sharing the water with beautiful birds and a few warthogs. I’m ashamed to say that the Lion King was the first thing that popped into my mind. Between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we had five hours worth of riding through the camp, spotting a slew of animals and making the most of our interactions with the tour guides.
The day came to a close following our second visit to Mount Kenya Academy’s junior school, an event I will save for the telling a little later on. It’s evening two of our intense work in the schools. Darkness has flooded the sky and I am now settling down to dinner with Lionel Richie blowing on a CD in the background. I am soaking in, once again, the wisdom and child-like sincerity of Mr. Bryan (“Daddy Ashley”), truly a mentor and inspiration to me. I mean tell me- how many eighty-seven year old individuals can travel through Safaris, long hour school days, etc. reciting poems in various languages off the top of their heads for any topic/situation we happen to strike up never EVER missing a beat- this is who the man is, and I cannot imagine not having him on my first trip to such a rich and amazing place. So to leave you with his rhythmic, funky recitation of Langston Hughes:
“Birthing is hard
and dying is mean,
so get yourself a little loving
Love, Light, and Blessings,