New Year’s Day at Patrick’s village, Kajire!
A perfect way to call in the New Year! Commiphora blooms, gorgeous green Sigala hills that surround the area in contrast with the neon red road. Kajire village is 20 minutes down a bumpy dirt road from Voi. Homes scatter the roads, homes that may be half finished or walled with mud, brick, or branches all interwoven together. A beautiful stone church sits sturdy and complete—and I wonder who and when it was built. Villagers wrapped in colorful kangas, western clothes, and some women in fancy dress for the holiday walk the road, some on foot, some on bikes, accompanied with cows, skinny stray dogs, chickens and goats. Children and adults both wave and smile. Some look with a shy curiosity—startled by our intrusion. People wait in front of a small cement station where water runs out from two spouts. The water is piped in from the hills and villagers collect it into large, yellow plastic containers that they must haul home (many women carry them on their heads) for miles. Patrick says that in the dry months, like September through November, the water runs dry and families may only get a liter a day—for everything—drinking, washing, cooking. To me, a well is a first priority.
Patrick’s house is lovely. Inside, green sofas are covered with beautiful, crocheted white doilies. His wife Rachel has a lovely, genuine smile. She expects her second baby in Feb. His daughter Sarah is a little sprite, filled with energy and definitely the life of the party. Grayson plays football “soccer,” kicking one of the balls we brought back and forth over the red dirt and through the spiky, aloe plants (yes, he comes out that day with legs full of scratches!) Sarah and her five-year-old buddy, Macharra, are immediately drawn to our cameras and can’t get enough of us taking their “pitcha.” Funny faces, action shots—the want it all, and we finally let them take their own shots (uh-oh, what have we started?)
Many of the children are shy at first, but warm up to us. Sarah is so happy with the beachball and strawberry shortcakes dolls (that my daughter bought for her) She love us straight away. The Spiderman ball spins and flies through camp (wapi bali?) until the ball disappears. We bring out the Frisbees and jump rope and more kids join us. The men try the jumprope and Sarah laughs at her dad, Patrick. We pass out melted chocolate coins and soon hands and faces are covered in the sticky sweet mess. Nicola shares the Weslch cakes and waffles she’s brought and they disappear in a second.
Everybody in the village greets us, shakes our hands (jambo, Happy New Year!)We are welcomed so genuinely. The women congregate near the outdoor kitchen—small fires burning in holes filled with charcoal in the ground. We join them to make chipati bread—dough rolled and flattened, spread with oil, rolled and flattened again, and then fried in oil over the fire in a black iron pan. The women are joyous, and welcoming in their own quiet way.
More kids join us in play. I teach them out to play snake (nyoka) with the jumprope, and we leap and jump over the serpent for hours—holding hands and laughing and getting bit by the rope snake. I meet Rose and Hannah, and they gently let their guard down, soon speaking some English to me, smiling and laughing and jumping. We teach them “duck, duck, goose” which becomes ndovu, ndovu, simba! (elephant, elephant, lion!) and in our small circle on the red earth we race around the circle, giggling, screaming, giving to the heat and exhaustion and the beauty of being together.
We help Patrick get set up on his computer—load Microsoft office and show in the basics. The men and some young boys gather round the benches under the tree, mesmerized by technology-- unheard of here in the village—a place with no electricity or plumbing. Electrical lines and poles are up, and the village hopes to have electricity by February. That will be a day to celebrate soon.
Nicola and I join in a political discussion with the men. We talk about education and politics. The low performing test scores in class 8 (8th grade) at their schools worries them. We talk about education and how you get children to perform well in school. How can kids learn with empty bellies, no shoes or pencils? When survival is the first focus for these families? How do we make a difference here? Books and pencils and balls are a start, but the real answer is financial independence. Finding a way to provide jobs and skills and elevate the standard of living here. Inside, I worry about the difficulty of making something so big happen.
We dive talks about the new Kenyan constitution. Great on paper now, but the men are concerned how it will be implemented. How the ideas of economic equality will pan out to erase such poverty and struggle. They speak of the elephants here, and how villagers cannot grow their own food without having it destroyed by the huge animals. How villagers here are never included in the big revenue earned from Tsavo East and West National parks just down the road. Officials do not compensate when livestock or a person is hurt or killed by wildlife. There seems a rift here—a definite imbalance between wildlife conservation and human conservation. Another intricate balance that I wish I had the answer for.
We wash our hands in a small bowl, finish our discussion around an amazing meal of rice, beans and chipati bread. Mango for desert. The heat and energy of the day begins to tire us. We take a group picture, pass out more melted treats (chocolate covered pretzels and yogurt covered stars—note to self, do not bring chocolate to Kenya in January!) I give Sarah one last swing, around and around until we’re both dizzy. Dizzy with happiness, nervousness, possibility. We shake hands, offer up our gratefulness for being invited to such a lovely celebration. Sarah tells her uncle in Swahili that we are “hers.” That makes me happy. With a stuffed belly, and warm heart, we get into the van and drive back down that red, bumpy road.
More children wave to us as we pass. There’s something in gift of their small hands that brings up complete hope and possibility. And for now, I have to believe that is enough.