The news from Kenya, part three

I arrive in Kaimosi!

On December 10 I finally made it back home to Kaimosi Mission after 45 years away.

As you might guess (particularly from my previous post), my emotions have been pretty close to the surface this entire trip. That was certainly true when I arrived at Kaimosi.

Eden Grace, my host in Kisumu, drove me out to Kaimosi and was thoughtful enough to forego the paved road that now runs near the mission, and instead brought me up the same dirt road I would have traveled all those years ago.

If you’d been in the truck with us, you’d have seen my eyes wide with wonder and my face lit by an astonished grin – from the moment we arrived at the Galigoli River at the base of the mission throughout the entire slow drive up the rutted road to the top. We passed one memory landmark after another, many nearly unrecognizable now yet somehow still completely familiar– the hospital, the teacher training college, the Lung’aho house, the Kindell house, the Dorrel house, the Adede house, and finally (I could barely remain in my seat!), my own old house up on the hill – looking a bit worn and tired, but then, who doesn’t after 45 years?

It’s hard to convey the complex emotions running through me at that moment of return. In a way I was feeling my years, amazed that I’d let so much time pass before returning. Simultaneously, I was feeling so young and excited, truly 10 years old again, bouncing in my seat and pointing there, and there, and there, and there…!

My perspective kept shifting. One moment the modern Kaimosi looked cluttered and frenetic. Fences and walls and gates stood where there’d once been open space. Lorries and cars and a steady stream of motorbikes (the ubiquitous picky-pickies that serve as a primary form of public transportation) revved past on a dirt road that once was filled only with people and their animals.

But the next moment, my perspective shifted again, the clutter faded, and all I could see was the pure beauty of the place and people exactly as I remembered them from so long ago.

We pulled up to the gate of the Friends Theological College, directly opposite my old house, and waited for the guard to open for us. Then we slowly drove up and around through the campus to the staff housing. Eden was on her cellphone letting the principal, Ann Riggs, know we’d arrived, but Ann was already walking toward us. Others appeared and helped with my bags – John, one of the teachers, and Ruth, a work-study student who would be helping me with food and water.

The FTC guest house was currently occupied by a minister visiting from the States with his daughter, so I was to be housed in a vacant staff unit for a week. At the end of the week, the term would be over, the American pastor would depart, and I’d move into the guest house for the rest of my stay.

The staff unit was simple and inviting. It had a front area with a chair and table, a back area with a sink, a room with a toilet and spigot, and a room with a bed. It appeared quite fine and cozy, and I considered staying there for the full three weeks once I got settled.

A dinner invitation

All afternoon I was hearing drums beating in the forest and up the road out back. I set up my notebook computer, and was relieved to find that the dongle I’d borrowed did indeed give me web access – slow and uncertain, yes, but nonetheless amazing to me out here. I started writing an email to Nancy to let her know I’d arrived safely, and as I wrote to her, the drums out back got nearer, and the voices – chanting now – got louder. It sounded as though a crowd was gathering, and I went out to investigate.

A crowd, indeed, was gathering! Not just gathering, but filling the road, marching and chanting. Then they started running, as though being chased or chasing something, I couldn’t tell which until I saw the arrival of men in blue shirts – police, I guessed – running after them with batons raised. The crowd ran off to the side of the road and slowly dissolved into the forest. I had no idea what that was about.

A little before 6:00 Ruth returned with an invitation (in honor of my first night there) to join the minister and his daughter for dinner. But after that, I’d be eating in my own unit on my own.

I wasn’t feeling particularly well – a bit nauseous with a building headache – but I appreciated the invitation. It was a very pleasant meal and conversation.  Father and daughter had been out at the Kakamega Forest preserve earlier in the day, but they seemed a bit disappointed somehow. The father talked about his ministry, and his daughter remained silent. I felt there was some tension in the air, but also figured it might have just been normal teenager-ness.

When the conversation turned to Philadelphia, however, the daughter brightened and began talking about favorite restaurants she’d been to there. I’m always happy to talk about Philly restaurants! Nearly every restaurant she named was one I’d been to, and we took over the conversation for a while.

Into the night

The night had gotten dark, and I didn’t want to infringe any more on their family time. Ruth had already disappeared, so I bid goodnight and set out for the walk back to my residence.

My first blunder: I didn’t bring a flashlight with me to dinner.

My second: I didn’t leave a light on when I’d left my residence.

The night was dark like it never gets in Philadelphia. There must have been heavy cloud cover, because there was not even moonlight or starlight to guide me. I really hadn’t walked far to dinner at all, just past a row of housing units, down a path, through a hedge, and down a hill to the guest house. But in the dark the route back seemed surprisingly challenging, and I felt each step with my toes first, hands stretched before me, to avoid walking into anything.

I also hadn’t paid attention to which unit was the one I’d left. Since I hadn’t turned on any lights, I approached everything that loomed as a dark shape in the night, felt for a door, tried my key, and worked my way down the path until I finally found a match.

And just in time, too. As soon as I made it inside, a sudden rainfall crashed down onto the metal roof, heavy and thunderous as though I were directly beneath a waterfall.  I went around turning on the lights, and then settled into a chair to read. I looked about me and felt quite pleased that this was going to be my home for a while now. Except for some vague, sort-of-sour, sort-of-metallic, smell that I couldn’t locate, I was feeling pretty cozy.

Then the power went out. Total darkness again.

I had been left a rechargeable electric lamp just for this situation, but of course in the dark I couldn’t find where I’d put it. My fingers brushed a box of matches on the table top. Problem solved! By match light I found the bag with my candles. By candle light I found the flashlight in my backpack. And by flashlight I finally found the lantern on the floor by the bed.

Mosquitos and other insects began buzzing around my light, so I prepared to get into bed beneath the netting. There was no water in the pipes, but I’d been warned not to brush my teeth with untreated water anyway. So I brushed with a little bottled water, then crawled under the mosquito net and was soon asleep.

At some point in the night I was awakened by a loud hissing sound and the sudden appearance of a bright light directly above me. After an initial panic, I realized that it was just the return of water and power. I heard another sound, too, some kind of movement near my bags. I got out from under my netting and started to investigate, then decided it might not be a good idea to go poking around when I didn’t know what might be there.

I went around turning out lights and closing spigots. I stood by the sink in the front room and gazed out the window into the night. The sky had cleared and was a deep blue-black. The full moon hung low and heavy above the forest. Thin clouds stretched above the moon like fingers, their knuckles dark and their undersides lit silver by the bright disk below them.

I stood for quite a while looking out with awe on the moonlit night and listening to the distant drumbeats, until the mosquitoes finally drove me back to bed.

NEXT UP: My first days in Kaimosi take a downturn 


  1. Beauty & subtle ominousness — wow! You were more resourceful than I would have been in the dark, without electricity. I agree totally that strange sounds in the night are best left to themselves.

  2. Can’t wait for the next installment! Write again soon.

    I feel like I am reading a mystery novel! You had me in the palm of your hand – I felt like I was in your room with you and feeling quite scared in the pitch black dark, with strange noises peeking my curiosity, on the edge of panic. Thanks, David.

    Hope you are staying well and enjoying all the adventures.

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