Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Western Kenya Safari (2): Nyanguru Village - Welcome Guy

Anyone following these notes knows I'm very taken with the Kenyan people, and this safari provided a splendid  opportunity to really get to know my friends, and to learn more about how people live in this beautiful country.

My friend Charles invited me to Kisii for a visit, and to come to his house and visit his family who live in the compound. It was a wonderful experience, and I feel as if I have yet another new "family" (in that connection I was writing about a couple of weeks ago).

This was my first visit to an Africa village and to see something of village life, and it was a very enlightening and very pleasurable time for me. We arrived late in the afternoon, and the village school (we had to drive through the schoolyard to get to the house) was closed, but the children were playing football and many other games on the grounds, and they just couldn't believe it when they saw us drive up.

They all approached the car and as I got out, I was surrounded by little kids of all ages, all fascinated. In fact, many of the little ones just couldn't stop laughing at me, and they were fascinated to see a muzungu in their village. I guess to some of them I was something of a clown-like figure, because they just couldn't stop laughing.

During the course of my visit, in fact, I was told several times and by many different people that I was the first white man to ever visit Nyanguru Village, and I felt duly honored to be so singled out. We visited the house three times during the course of the week-end, and each time mobs of people descended on the house, all happy to see me and full of questions about my life in America. 

The photo above is of Charles's family, taken in the beautiful sunset time of the early evening (just to entice you to go to the album for this visit and see some more Nyanguru Village photos).

Many of the community speak English, and while the degree of proficiency varies (and many of the children - not yet proficient - were quiet and appeared to be shy, but they were just listening), we had plenty of conversation. It's country life, and these people live their lives with their own livestock, bringing water from the river (a long and rather tortuous climb, it looked to me), cooking their meals from what they grow, and it was all very basic and back-to-the-earth for this city dweller.

I was asked about New York and about where I live, and it soon became obvious that the concept of a big city with tall buildings was pretty remote to many of the people I met. We spoke about how I shop, and what I eat, and how I cook for myself (very strange that a man would make his own meals). They told me about the crops they grow and toured me about to see much of their livestock. One of their big crops is Napier Grass, and it was made clear that it is a very important part of their lives. Why? Because it is what they feed the cattle. In fact, I was asked several times by different visitors what I feed my cows, and I have to say the first time I was asked I was a little taken aback. It took me a while to figure it out.

The house is a lovely home, built by Charles. It's in several buildings, a big square room separated by a wall going almost to the roof, with the sitting/dining room in the front next to the entrance and the master bedroom next. A separate building houses the kitchen and two bedrooms for the children, and a third building houses Charles's aged parents (and, yes, at dusk the children help them round up the goats and the chickens and bring them into the parents' house for the night).

The house is made of timber with the cracks filled in with cow dung, and then the whole, inside and out, is covered over with mud, which dries to a hard, plaster-like finish. And to answer your question, the bathroom is a pit toilet, in its own building away from the houses, and there seems to be a separate shed-like building where there are some sort of showers and other washing gadgets, but I did not go there to explore. I didn't want to be rude.

Charles's wife Jane and aunts and neighbourhood ladies prepared wonderful meals for us, all the good things Charles has learned that I like (so he obviously prepped them) and we all ate sitting around the long coffee tables in the sitting room, using the long dining table as a sort of sideboard to hold all the things prepared for us to eat. I had brought loaves of bread and sugar and cooking oil and things like that, since that is the proper gift when visiting a Kenyan home, and it was very clear why they were appreciated, for the place was just always full of people, inside and out, and meals were shared (of course I also brought New York souvenirs - tea towels and potholders and lapel pins and the like but that was different - it s the "household" gifts - the food staples - that are most appreciated and customary).

We were blessed with so many good comments and conversations, and wonderful visits by many, many people, not just children. The adults wanted to know more about America, about President Obama (we had passed a home on the road that had been signpainted over the door "Senator Obama Estate"), and, curious to me, about my work for the United Nations. 

We were also blessed with a glorious sunset, since the compound is on top of a high hill, facing West (and apparently these sunsets are just part of the daily routine!). I tried to capture some of the colour in the pictures, and there is lots more about Charles's family and his home, too. As you look at the photos of this part of the country, with this post and with others, you can see that these houses and compounds rising up the hillsides is the common way of building for the Kenyan people in the hill country of Western Kenya.

I already knew before I arrived at Nyanguru Village that the Kenyans are very religious people. Most of the people in Nyanguru Village are Seventh Day Adventists, and when we arrived for Saturday night supper, people came to visit dressed in their church-going clothes, and all the young men in suits and neat shirts and ties. There were prayers, before the meals and whenever we would leave for the night (for Charles to take me back to the hotel). 

And even though I profess to being not very religious, I could not help but be touched by the devotion of these people to their God and their routine of bringing Him into their lives, not in any demanding or challenging way, but just as part of their lives. 
And when I had the opportunity, since we prayed before the evening ended, I told about how the Anglican service of Evensong and Evening Prayer was always one of my favorite services (still is) because it is so beautiful in thanking God for getting us through the day and asking for protection during the night. My Kisii friends understood immediately and loved hearing me speak about Evensong.

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