It was a Sunday morning, and I was heading into Thika with some other volunteers. It ended up being a long matatu ride, but thanks to little Joseph tagging along, he got the matatu driver to drop us off in front of Tusky’s, the grocery store, rather than in the market. I finally got to buy baby wipes, which are a lifesaver when it comes to getting the red clay off of your feet before bed. Another volunteer decided to get his beard trimmed up (yes, this grocery store is like the Wal-Mart of Kenya, except it treats its employees better). It seemed like we had to wait forever; they gave him a head massage, put some warm cloths on his face… the whole she-bang just for a beard trimming. We finally got out of there, hit up the internet café, and then it was time to head back home. I bought some sausages out of the matatu window in anticipation for my visit with Fridah. Fridah was the former cook, launderer, caretaker, and Superwoman of WWB. She left at the end of 2008 to get her teaching certificate and has since started teaching in another village. My friend James was taking me to her parents’ house in hopes that she might be there on a Sunday.
Last time I was here, I used to pick up sausages for Fridah when we went to Thika- they were one of her favorites. I’m not sure how long they keep but I figured if these street vendors can walk around with them all day, they should be fine in my backpack for a few hours. We got home, I ate lunch, showered, ahem I mean bucket bathed, and then James and I were off. We got to the Pundamilia stage, (minibus stop) crossed the road, and were heading down a hill to the village of Marua. This road is composed of a black clay, rather than the typical red clay you find in this region. The rains had taken its toll, and the road was flooded and muddy. I had on my ‘Sunday best’, i.e. jeans and a shirt with no writing on it, yet my Chacos and my ankles were splattered in mud by the time we arrived at her house. Her mother and father were so surprised to see us that they embraced me like my parents might embrace me after not seeing me for months. They hugged me so tightly and didn’t let go. “Karibu!” They welcomed me. This is the kind of Kenyan warmth and hospitality that you don’t come across everyday. It turns out Fridah was not home but on her way… she had a two week break from school, otherwise she wouldn’t have been here. How lucky were we? Her sister phoned her for me, and Fridah let me know that she was in Makuyu (nearby village) but would stop by the orphanage on her way home.
James and I walked back to Punda, or shall I say waded back, and we parted at the gate. Several hours passed, and I didn’t think Fridah was coming, so I gave her sausages to Damaris who had helped me with my laundry earlier. I was sitting outside, under the tree where we do our washing, playing with Baby Joyce when Soldier (the night guard) came up and said “Someone is asking for you.” “Me?” I said. I really had made up my mind that Fridah was not going to make it so I was caught off guard. I stood up, and it hit me. She was here! I started walking towards the gate and was practically power-walking by the time I got there. When you approach the gate there is a little door for people to pass through, but it’s short so you can’t really see to the other side. I ducked to pass through the gate, and there she was. Her back to me, wearing a smart business suit, and with a really nice hair-do, she looked different but I knew it was her. She turned around, and my excitement spilled over. “Fridah!” We embraced and briefly chatted. I was biting my tongue, fighting back the tears, and then I lost it and gushed, “It’s just not the same without you!” I seriously felt like a 5 year old child. I wanted to say more but decided not to. She was happy. It was dusk, and I knew she needed to go, so she wouldn’t be wading through the muck in the dark. We made plans for me to visit her on Wednesday afternoon, and she said she would invite Agnes, the field worker at the time I was here in 2008. As she was leaving, she said, “I have a lot to tell you.” We would catch up in 3 days.
A briefing about Fridah: She worked from 5am- 10pm. Everyday. Every single day. And she’s actually a year younger than me. She and Agnes were up before everyone and asleep after everyone. It was non-stop hard work and manual labor. In order to cook or wash dishes or do laundry, she had to first pull up water from the well. And when you’re doing these things for 25- 35 people, that’s a lot of water. During part of my stay the bucket in the well was leaking, meaning you had to work twice as hard for the same amount of water. Not only did she keep the place running, but she was also loving and motherly to the children. If she ever did have a few minutes downtime, they were spent playing and hugging the children. I honestly don’t know how she and Agnes did it.