I awoke feeling a little bit like a Scrooge. I was not in any sort of Christmas spirit and still sad from a conversation the evening prior. I lay in bed another 20 minutes before deciding that I must face the day head on and get up. I lifted my mosquito net and placed two feet on the concrete floor. I grabbed my toothbrush and emerged from my room, blinded by the sunlight. It’s going to be a hot day, I thought. Kids started greeting me with “Merry Christmas,” and it was just so odd. The weather was warm, there were no icicle lights hanging from the buildings, and I didn’t smell my mother’s pancakes cooking either.
The children’s excitement was nothing short of contagious, and soon I felt more in the spirit. Well, in some sort of spirit anyhow. It still didn’t feel like Christmas. We planned out a schedule of events for the day and ate breakfast- mandazis (fried bread), chai tea, and freshly cut pineapple. After a short break, we started carting the children’s presents to tables set up outside. Each child received one box with a new piece of clothing and some candies and biscuits. It was wonderful to see just how excited the kids got over their presents, and I felt like such a mom as I ran around trying to catch their reactions as they opened their gifts and made a mess eating their candies.
I got dressed and put on my smartest clothes- jeans, a long top, and black flats. I told the cook I should be back around lunchtime (of course now I run on African time and we can assume I would be late) and walked thru the gates to head to the boys’ house. Donning their smartest attire as well, they looked so nice. We waited for a friend of theirs to show up with his motorbike so we could head out to the boys’ uncle’s house. Our plan was to spend lunch with the family and come back in the afternoon. The four of us squeezed on the motorbike and off we went for the 15 or so kilometer ride down bumpy dirt roads. When we reached the village of Kirimiri, we paused to ask someone if he knew where their uncle lived. I gave Onesmus the raised eyebrow because I thought he knew where we were going. Apparently knowing the name of the village and having been in the area before, constituted knowing where we were going. We drove a few more kilometers down the road and then turned off at a huge coffee plantation. The hillside was beautiful. We stopped at the plantation gates and got off the motorbike one-by-one. After a quick stretch to recover from the cramped ride, we started walking.
I admired the neatly planted coffee bushes, the surrounding hillsides, and even a lake in the distance. We walked down a shaded path lined with trees owned by a large paper and lumber company. We passed a man who gave us further directions and kept on walking. We spotted a car in the distance, which was a landmark. Happy to have arrived, we greeted an uncle, a cousin, and some neighbors. But it turned out that the family’s celebration was taking place at another uncle’s house, so we started walking again… down the mountain. It was mid-day at this point and the heat was drenching our nice dress clothes. The thought ran through all of our minds- we hoped there was another main road near the house so we didn’t have to hike back up the mountain. At the next uncle’s house we were warmly greeted by the family and offered sodas. We sat inside for a bit, and even though the air was stagnant, it was shelter from the intense sunshine. John took me to see the compound, and we once again admired the gorgeous views. We thought we had found a nice place to relax and just enjoy each others company and the company of these little girls that followed us, but unfortunately being a mzungu means that I stick out like a sore thumb. The boys’ uncle was selling traditional beer behind the house, and I had been spotted by all the drunk men partaking in the local brew. A gentleman in his 50s came up, put his arm around me and invited me to visit his home. He wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer, and at some point he was telling me that John was his son, and I am like his daughter. John doesn’t even know the man, and I moved to the other side of him to avoid the gropings of the drunks. He left once I falsely agreed to visit him the following day, but then another guy decided it was his turn. He spoke Kikuyu to John and I picked up on parts of it- only that he knows John’s older brother. But the conversation wasn’t terribly long because John just told him I was his wife and that seemed to make him go away. We walked back up to the house to seek refuge inside.
A short while later, their aunt and cousin brought in plates and several covered dishes. While I’d rather be savoring a honey-baked ham, I was prepared for the traditional Kenyan Christmas meal: goat meat. I ate goat meat last year in Nairobi and the flavor isn’t bad. I had even prepared myself for the meat being on the bone (at home I only eat boneless meat… I know, just call me spoiled) and I knew that there might be mystery goat parts in the stew that I’d have to pawn off on the boys. But I was prepared to eat it.
The aunt dished out all of our plates with goat meat, potatoes in a tomato broth, cabbage, and chapati. Apparently deciding that I needed the biggest helping of goat meat, she rearranged the plates. Grrrreat. I picked up my plate and tasted the cabbage. Good. A bite of the potatoes- also good. I went to pick up my first piece of goat meat, and that’s when I got my gag reflex. It was hairy. Whoever slaughtered the goat did not do a good job and goat hairs got in the meat. I found a piece that did not look particularly hairy and started chewing. It was a bit tough but tasted good. After I had my obligatory bite though, I divvied up my portion between the boys. I claimed that I couldn’t possibly eat it all. They apparently did not mind or maybe didn’t notice hairs in their goat meat so it was a win-win situation.
We finished off the food, washed it down with juice and then waited for the aunt to walk back up the mountain with us. There was no phone reception in the area so she was going to call a friend once we got up the mountain to come get us. If we had called our driver, we would have had to wait at least 30 minutes for him to come. Going back up the mountain was worse. I felt my face and my arms burning and there was sweat pouring down all of our faces. When we made it back to the other uncle’s house we all breathed a sigh of relief. Three cousins and two aunts had walked with us to see us off. Another 10 minutes down the road we got cell phone service and called a driver. We walked past the paper company trees and back to the coffee farm. We sat down on the side of the road, and I taught Onesmus how to play tic tac toe in the dirt.
Then I decided I had to use the bathroom. I asked if it was okay to go behind the coffee bushes, and the aunt told me there wasn’t a toilet around. I understood, but just inquired so I wouldn’t offend. I walk a few rows back to take cover from the road and even from there it was just a stunning view. We walked a little further and waited for the motorbike to come, but it was taking forever. A car passed that agreed to take us to the main road and we piled in- five people in the backseat. It felt just like a matatu ride. With the windows down, we bounced down the dirt road with Noel playing on the radio. It just seemed out of place. Hot and sweaty with not a single sign of a Christmas decoration, Christmas carols played from the speakers. We got out at the main road, crossed to the other side and picked up a motorbike taxi to take us to our village. Only a few minutes from home, the motorbike got a flat tire and we had to hop off. Tired and covered in a layer of dust and sweat, we walked the remaining distance. We walked through the gates of the orphanage around 5:30 pm…. yep, I almost made it back for lunch ;) Christmas in Kenya was just another typical day in Africa- unexpected, time consuming, and an adventure.
Note: The goat meat served at the orphanage was hair-free, and I was able to eat some of that for dinner!