The news from Kenya, part four

Things take a downturn

Early on December 11, my first morning in Kaimosi, I was awakened by a knocking at the door. I struggled to get untangled from the mosquito net and into some clothes. Ruth was waiting for me with a pot of hot water to use for washing. She also brought a thermos of fresh milk, straight from the cow and boiled. She tried my water spigot, found it spitting a bit, and put a large garbage pail beneath it to fill. I suspected unreliable water was going to be the norm.

Caring for guests is part of Ruth’s work-study responsibilities as a student at the Friends Theological College (FTC). She asked me what I wanted for breakfast, waited while I retrieved the ingredients, then left and came back a short while later with scrambled eggs and toast. Electricity was back, so using an old Mr. Coffee machine left in the room I heated drinking water, spooned in some of the instant coffee I’d gotten in Kisumu, and added some boiled milk. Excellent!

There was another knock at the door. A man with a broad face and even broader smile introduced himself: Silas Vidalo, who works in the finance office. He grew up in Kaimosi, and already knew that I lived here as a boy, so we started talking about who used to live in what house and what has changed over the years. I learned that my old mission school is now a Kenyan primary school, the old Industrial Center is now a technical school, and other bits of information. His memory is phenomenal and, as I would find out, he knows practically everyone in Kaimosi. He said he’ll take me on a walking tour one of these days.

Out and about

In the meantime, I decided to go out and explore on my own. I wasn’t feeling any better that morning. In fact, I was feeling rather worse, but I didn’t want to stay inside. I greeted the guard at the FTC gate on my way out, and then slowly wandered down the road taking photos and short video clips of houses as I went. I felt very conspicuous – as, of course, I was. A picky-picky driver offered to take me somewhere and didn’t want to accept my no-thank-you (“Where are you going?! Why are you walking!?”) When I began filming the technical institute a guard started to move toward me. I took a few photos at the teacher training college, but stopped when another guard started to approach. Everything felt much more protected and much less open than when I was here as a boy.

I could also definitely sense the country’s economic stresses. Kenya in general is having a horrible economic time. The government is funding a war, and its own people are suffering. They’ve even stopped paying the hospitals, including Kaimosi hospital. Friends United Meeting may have to decide it can’t keep covering the losses. Much at Kaimosi felt run-down and under-funded. At the same time, new buildings and new institutions had been started. There was a definite mix of progress and stasis, but at the moment the stasis was depressing me.

I made my way back up to FTC where I had planned to join Ann Riggs, the principal, at her home for silent meeting for worship. I’ve been told that Ann’s living room hosts the only un-programmed Friends meeting in Western Province, and that the only other one in Kenya is in Nairobi. With my participation, there would have been a total of two of us for worship, but when I got to Ann’s house there was a note on the door telling me she had to make an emergency trip to Kisumu, so there’d be no meeting at all.

Eden Grace had explained to me that many Kenyan Quakers are quite suspicious of the western form of un-programmed silent worship, with its ministry by anyone who wishes to speak from the silence. Some doubt that God would actually speak through an ordinary person, and they fear it could be the Devil speaking instead.

I was sorry to miss meeting with Ann, but I had found the short trek down the hill surprisingly exhausting and I needed to lie down. I had hoped I would be feeling better after a night’s sleep, but I was actually feeling quite a bit worse. Intense nausea. Worsening headache. Loss of energy.

Back to bed

I went back to my residence. It was starting to smell worse, which didn’t help. The toilet wasn’t working, but that wasn’t the source of the smell. I couldn’t tell whether something was rotting somewhere, or if the smell was something in the structure of the building itself, perhaps rust, decay, or mold. But I resolved to adapt and not say anything, since it seemed quite rude to complain about a place where I was a guest.

I was feeling too weak and sick at this point to do much, so I crawled back under the netting and went to sleep. I woke occasionally during the day, tried unsuccessfully to read or write, then went back to sleep until I awoke and started the cycle over.

At some point I heard a voice calling my name and a knocking at the door. I slowly rose to investigate. It was Ruth, come to get ingredients to prepare for dinner. I knew I should eat something, but I doubted I could keep anything down if I tried, so I told Ruth I was fine without dinner tonight. I asked her if she knew anything about a large crowd I had seen on the road the night before, beating drums, chanting, and eventually being chased by police into the forest.  She said she didn’t, but would ask. Her guess was that it was related to Jamhuri Day – Kenyan independence day – which was the next day. When Silas had stopped by  earlier in the day, we’d made tentative plans to go see a local Jamhuri celebration tomorrow. He also said I could watch the national celebration and speeches on TV in the dining hall.

I was pleased my trip had coincided with Jamhuri Day and I was eager to see the celebration, but I wished that I was feeling better. I also needed to start scheduling interviews for the coming week as it was my only chance to reach people before the end of term. The way I was feeling, though, it seemed a daunting challenge to muster the strength to conduct a single interview, let alone several.

The water had stopped running again. My camera battery was dead, and my computer battery nearly so, but the electricity was still out so I couldn’t recharge . The smell had worsened and I was constantly nauseous, but at least I had identified the front sink room as the source, and I could shut that door, which helped a little.

Overall, I was feeling pretty low. After all of the effort over the past year to finally get back to Kaimosi, I didn’t want to end up sick! I was concerned about what I’d do if I became seriously ill. I pulled out my travel insurance paperwork to check my coverage for medical evacuation. That was too depressing, and I crawled back under the net to sleep some more.

Next: Jamhuri Day

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