Village Gossip & Chuck Norris

My alarm went off at six. Still dark out, I rolled out of bed and my feet hit the cold tile floor. Tired but excited for the day, I quickly got ready, stirred the dozing guard awake to open the gate for me, and walked down the shaded dirt road to the bus stop. I was heading out to the village to visit with the boys. Not only was I eager to see them, but we had logistics to work out for our upcoming safari to the coast.

Onesmus, John, and Patrick have never been to Mombasa. They’ve never seen the ocean, smelled the salty sea air, felt the beach breeze, or gagged on a gulp of salt water while swimming with their mouths open. The furthest they’ve been from home is probably Nairobi, which is about 50 miles from their village.

I hurried to get ready and was about 30 minutes behind schedule. I left the house just before seven, caught the bus to Nairobi’s CBD, and then walked to the matatu stage (station) for the matatus that head north around Thika. When I arrived and told them my village destination, the matatu for that one had just pulled out so they put me on a matatu to Thika where I would need to switch. The woman in the parking lot wanted to look out for me and had the conductor explain that he would show me where to catch the next matatu. Little did they know that Thika was like a second home for me during my last visits to Kenya, but I couldn’t help but smile and be conscious again of just how much I love Kenyan hospitality. Twenty minutes later we had a full matatu, and we pulled away. Due to major highway road construction in Nairobi, the traffic was even worse than normal (Nairobi has one of the worst traffic problem in the world). An hour passed and I didn’t even realize it- I was too busy watching every move we made darting around cars and having close calls with other buses. Oh wait, that’s right, yes a big bus did bump into us while merging and we had to pull over once we got past a traffic accident to inspect for damage. (This was the day after my bus’ brakes went out and we backed down a hill and took out a few cars.)

Another 45 minutes later, we pulled into a gas station in Thika. I crossed the park and ducked between some stalls to emerge on the other side into the chaotic marketplace and matatu station. I felt more out of place than usual, but maybe that’s because I was by myself and I was the only white girl in the sea of Africans. Boda bodas (bike taxis) were vying for my business, and young men were yelling “Hey mzungu!” (white person). I accidentally passed the row for my matatu and had to turn down all of the “Please follow me” offers to find my matatu. During my 30 minute wait in Thika (because the matatus never leave unless full, regardless of efficiency), I was reminded again of how much I love Kenya. Initially the people laughed when the touts tried to sell me anything and everything through the window. Haha, yes, very funny that the white girl is getting picked on. But then I bonded with my fellow matatu mates, when the last of the customers got on with table tops, buckets, cooking pots, an unknown box, and food bags. It takes some skill to get big products on these little vans. Like solving a jigsaw puzzle, the conductor finally got all the goods on with the owners hidden under their piles of goods. We were all laughing at the man in the first row who had to crawl under his tables tops so that he had a place to sit.

We left Thika via a different route than usual due to the repaving of the main road. I had forgotten just how lush and beautiful the Central Highlands are. Actually, I thought I had remembered quite well, but the maize crops are so green, that when I took pictures of them in the village, they almost look unreal. An old woman gets on right before my stop and warmly acknowledges me with a toothless grin and a Swahili greeting. I crawled over people to get out at the Pundamilia stage and avoided making eye contact with the two mzungus standing on the other side. No mzungu is ever out in these parts unless they are part of the one volunteer organization, and since I was already 2 hours late, I did not want to give my long-winded explanation of what the hell this random mzungu was doing out in the village. I zig-zagged through the maize fields and thought this was perhaps the most beautiful village I’ve ever visited. I was excited. I greeted the passing kids in Kikuyu, explained that no, I did not have any candy on me, and no, they could not have my shoes. When I was nearly to the boys’ house, I nearly stopped in my tracks when I saw a group of kids from the orphanage. Of course I’m dying to visit them and I will be staying with them for Christmas, but I had hoped not to run into them that day. The bright and beautiful Amina greeted me and asked if I knew who she was. Of course I did. How could I forget the only girl in the entire orphanage on my first visit who pitched a holy fit and refused to have her head shaved because she had a bit of vanity (and with every right, the child is gorgeous). Looking older and sporting a shaved head which she had on my second trip, I explained that I would be back next week to stay. Her English was nearly flawless, and I was so impressed. I waved them goodbye, crossed the dusty path, and when I was almost to the boys’ house, Onesmus emerged at the end of the driveway. Well, I guess when there are no cars you don’t call it a driveway, but rather a dirt path. Both of us grinning ear to ear, it was like the 19 months since we had last seen each other were just a couple of days. We shook hands and exchanged hugs, while I apologized for being late and for the fact that my hands were covered in red clay since the kids had been gardening and nearly bowled me over when I passed. We got up to the main house and I noticed that Patrick’s hut had fallen during the rains. Such a shame.

We sat down inside for a cup of Kenyan tea (my favorite!) and just caught up on village news and gossip. It was just like what I would do with girlfriends back home at a coffee shop, except that instead of discussing Justin Bieber’s potential paternity scare or Herman Cain’s lack of knowledge on Libya, we are discussing how the very bright Virginia is now a mother. The girl who I helped move to the orphanage on my first trip and who had subsequently moved in with her grandmother and been dropped from sponsorship by my second visit, now is the mother of a child and married. I think I heard my heart give a heavy sigh. John saw her in the market last month and when he tried to talk to her about it and see how she was doing, she began to cry. I make a note to visit her and the baby when I returned the followed week. It’s not easy to be ranked at the top of your class in school and be so intelligent, and then to have a C-section in a rural clinic at 15 and wind up married and a school dropout. This girl had a tough life before I met her, suffering physical and sexual abuse, but she was so bright that even though she had missed three months of school, our local school admitted her based on test scores. She’s smart. Too smart to wind up like this. And as much I don’t want to ever think that anyone’s ‘life is over’, statistically speaking it doesn’t look good for her. Yep, I owe her a visit.

We finish our other village gossip, which is over the top (*cough* local  scandal) and move on to the maps that I pull out of my bag. The boys are so eager to learn and we search for countries, capitals, and cities that they have heard of in movies or books. John wants to know about Schwarzenegger, and I point to Sacramento. “Oh yes!” he exclaims, “And also in California is this place I have heard about Hollywood. Is it real?’ I tell him, that yes it is very real and has a giant sign to prove it. He turns to his younger brother and says, “Hollywood is where all the famous actors live. [pause] Like Chuck Norris.” I try to stop myself but I can’t help but burst out laughing. “You know Chuck Norris?” “Yes,” I tell him, “but people in America think he’s funny.” I’m not really sure how you explain that to someone, but I never would have thought that Chuck Norris would be the first actor to come to a Kenyan’s mind when they think of Hollywood. “He’s a cowboy,” John says, “mmmhmm, Chuck Norris is a cowboy.” God, I love Kenya.

We write out a packing list for Mombasa, prepare lunch, make a silly video about what the boys expect for Mombasa, and rush to the matatu stage about 30 minutes behind schedule. I leave the village just after four, but somehow (ie horrendous traffic) don’t walk through the door in Nairobi until eight. On the matatu ride back I meet a lovely woman from Chogoria, near Mt. Kenya. She tells me how beautiful my hair is and asks if it’s possible for us to trade. I tell her I’m not sure but we can try. By the time we reach Nairobi she is inviting me to come visit. We exchange numbers, and I may take her up on it if I have time (I just hope she doesn’t have a pair of scissors lying around when I arrive).

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