Busara Blog

David H Sanders

Archive for Galigoli

The news from Kenya, part seven

Chepsonoi, Kenya

I learn extraordinary news (and I don’t mean about the rat)

Ruth arrived early morning again with a pan of hot water and a thermos of boiled milk. This time, however, I was already up and feeling much better. I asked for eggs and toast.

I also finally asked about the sounds I was hearing in my room at night.

“Oh yes,” she said. “You have a rat.”

It was such a simple statement, yet so disturbing.

“Don’t let it bite you,” she added on her way out, “or you will need strong medicine. They use this place to store maize, you know. The rat is looking for food.”

I was still mulling over the rat business when Ruth returned, moments later, to announce, “The dean of students will see you right now. I will take you there.”

She waited while I got dressed and gathered my gear: paper, pens, tape recorder, digital camera, Flip video camera, and my borrowed cellphone. It felt quite strange to have access to all of that technology in such a remote area.

Meshack Musindi was waiting at his desk when I arrived, and when we were done with the interview, I returned to my room where I had arranged to talk with Ruth about her experience as a student. When I concluded my conversation with Ruth, I considered myself finally finished with my interviews. I didn’t know yet what I was going to write, but I was feeling pleased with the source material I had to work with, and I was also looking forward to turning my attention to my own work.

I was feeling much better physically, too, and hungry for the first time in days, so I fixed myself a real lunch – some cheese and crackers, dates, leftover rice and chicken from when I’d first arrived, a chocolate bar and digestive biscuits, plus two more glasses of that magical, fluorescent orange liquid.

More discoveries await

I had arranged with Silas to go on another guided walking tour of Kaimosi that afternoon, this time all the way down to the Galigoli River and dam. I went to his office to meet him, and got to talking with his boss, Josphat Lime Jiveti, the finance officer, about memories from when I was a kid in Kaimosi. I told Josphat I had lived in the house directly across the road from the College. When I asked about my old neighbors, Rose and Rufus Adede, I was told that both of them had died some years back. The news was quite a shock.

I told him I remembered two people who helped care for my family back then. One was a man named Musa. Both Josphat and Silas shook their heads; didn’t remember him. The other person, I told them, was a man named Simeon.

A jolt of electricity seemed to crackle through the room

“Simeon,” said Josphat, “is my grandfather! His name is Simeon Mwanga, and he used to take care of families in that very house where you lived!”

It seemed miraculous to make such a connection after all of these years. Then it got better.

“He is still alive, you know,” said Josphat. “He is 97 years old! He has been at the hospital for a foot infection, but he is back home now at his shamba in Chepsonoi. Would you like to see him?”

Of course I would! But I told Josphat that I was only going to be in Kaimosi a few more weeks. Did he think it would be possible to coordinate a visit in that time?

“I am taking you to see him tonight,” he said.

Josphat and Silas


From Kaimosi to Chepsonoi

Silas wanted to get lunch before we headed out on our walking tour, so he took me first to the dining hall to join the rest of the school. I had already eaten a large lunch and I was feeling quite full and still a bit queasy, so I told Silas I didn’t need any lunch. He wouldn’t hear of it. He returned from the kitchen with a metal plate stacked with a huge mound of rice and large chunks of tough, fatty beef. We weren’t leaving until I ate it all.

But finally we were off on our walking tour, this time down to the Galigoli River, where there used to be a saw mill and power station, both of which have long been out of commission, destroyed by neglect after the government took them over from the mission. We visited the Teacher Training College,

Teacher Training College

the chapel, the Kaimosi Friends Primary School (now a large day and boarding school on the site of my old two-room mission school),

Principal of Kaimosi Friends Primary School

the Kaimosi Hospital (picked up a package left there for me by Eden Grace, and visited with a nurse who worked at the hospital when I was a boy. I told her I had spent a night in the hospital for a broken collar bone back then, and she said yes, she remembered that. Possible, I guess – people I’d met so far have had extraordinary memories of those days.)

Nurse who thought she remembered me

I talked with people all along our walk (including a retired minister out with his cows and grandchildren), and nearly everyone who heard my story said, “God has brought you home to Kaimosi. You have come home.” It certainly felt as though I’d come home.

When I got back to the college, Josphat was ready to go. Evidently “tonight” meant “this afternoon.” We took the College truck and after less than an hour on a paved road we turned onto a very narrow dirt road down a very steep hill that eventually landed us at Simeon’s shamba with cows and chickens wandering the yard.

Simeon's shamba

While I sat in the front room – dirt floor, mud walls – Simeon’s wife, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren gathered to sit with me while Josphat went to dress his grandfather and bring him out to visit. His wife led us in prayer while we waited, again when Simeon arrived, and again when it was time to leave.

Simeon's family


With Simeon Mwanga

Simeon in 1966

The visit was short but emotionally powerful. Simeon was clearly tired and in pain, but he was also alert and communicated through his grandson his appreciation that a child he had cared for so long ago had come back to say thank-you.

For most of the drive back to Kaimosi I was silent, greatly moved by the ever-deepening sense of homecoming that has filled this trip.

Next: I go to the Hill of Vision

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The news from Kenya, part five

Okay, first off, spoiler alert: I’m actually writing this from Philadelphia, so now you know I made it home safely.

Happy New Year to all!

Sorry to leave you in the lurch for so long after my last post. My time in Kaimosi ended up becoming quite filled with activity and I couldn’t keep up with posting. So now I’m going to reach back as best I can to reconstruct over the next few weeks the remainder of my trip. I’ll try to do this chronologically, but I have a feeling things may end up becoming a bit more impressionistic as I go along. Here goes:

The news from Kenya part 5

Jamhuri Day!

December 12, Kenya’s Independence Day. I’d made plans with both Silas and John to go visit a local Jamhuri celebration, and although I’d awakened feeling even worse than the day before, I was looking forward to getting out of my room.

When Ruth brought the morning milk she also had news about the crowds and police I’d seen my first day. It was related to Jamhuri, she said. At first the crowds had been celebrating independence, but when a government official arrived to make a speech, the crowd began protesting against fuel prices and rising inflation, and the police had chased them down the road and into the forest.

Plans for seeing a local Jamhuri celebration quickly fell apart, but I arranged with John to get a tour of the Friends Theological College campus instead, including the library, chapel, and his office. On the way I met Hesborne Apida, another faculty member. One of the classes he teaches is church administration, and when he learned I have graduate degrees in both education and business, he said, “You must come speak to my class!”

So my schedule was beginning to fill up: an interview with John at 8:30 the next morning after chapel, then a visit to Hesborne’s class at 9:30. I had also started arranging interviews with others before the term ended that week, including Ann, the principal, and Meshack Musindi, the dean of students. I also hoped to interview a student, but wasn’t sure what the sensitivities might be about that, so I put that on my list of questions for Ann.

I was arranging all of these interviews in connection with writing articles for Quaker and other publications in the States. Ann had started to define “these wonderful articles you are going to write about us” as my payment for housing, which was a great offer, but feeling as sick as I did, I was also starting to feel under some pressure.

I also was trying to arrange for someone to go with me into the forest, which I’d been told I shouldn’t do alone, plus I wanted to explore the mission more, get down to the Galigoli river, and also get inside my old house once the current residents were back from holiday.

Just the thought of all I was planning was exhausting me, and I felt too weak and nauseous to do much besides sleep. Still, I continued on with John on our tour of campus. Along the way he became the first of what would turn out to be quite a number of people who would ask me to give them a computer. I told him, no, that was not something I could do.

We eventually headed toward the dining hall for morning tea.  Tea time in the dining hall was just the way I remembered it as a child! Tea leaves, milk, and sugar all boiled together in a huge vat and ladled out, steaming, into mugs. Delicious!

The TV in the dining hall was broadcasting the Jamhuri celebration from Nairobi, and we pulled up benches to watch what ended up being HOURS of processions of military personnel and marching bands, along with political speeches and entertainers that included singers, comedians, rappers, dancers, and children’s choirs. Both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga spoke, and at least 20 minutes were filled with simply marching the original Kenyan flag, which looked quite worn but also quite moving, around the stadium. The local favorite, though, was a performance of traditional dance and music by students of the Tiriki Friends School, just down the road from Kaimosi.

Throughout the broadcast, a banner news headline crawled across the bottom of the screen that read, “48th Jamhuri Day. 2nd since new constitution. Inflation stands at 195%.”

As soon as I got back to my room, I collapsed again into bed and slept away the rest of the day until nearly 6:00. When Ruth came to ask what I wanted for dinner, I told her I still wasn’t hungry. I went back to bed, thinking about the Kaimosi Hospital just down the road and wondering if I might end up needing its services.

Next: a magic potion!

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