I returned to NEGST exhausted yesterday after a 4 day adventure in Kisumu. Elly and Caroline, friends of mine from NEGST, invited me and our friend Muigai to spend a few days with them in their village near Kisumu, a small city in Kenya.
We arrived in their village on Sunday evening after a very bumpy 7 hour bus ride from Nairobi. This was a real rural village – no electricity, no running water (they got their water from a well), a hole in the ground used as a toilet, a pile of firewood used as a stove, etc. Rural Kisumu is primarily made up of the Luo ethnic group, one of the largest ethnic groups in Kenya. According to their culture, once a man gets married, he can no longer stay in his mother’s house and must build his own house on her land where he and his family can stay when they come to visit. So Elly’s place consisted of four small, simple one story houses made of concrete with tin roofs – one was his mother’s house and the other were for her three sons.
On Monday morning, Elly and Caroline were busy talking to some people from their village so Muigai and I set out to explore the village. It was exactly how I had pictured a rural African village – huts with thatched roofs, cows, goats, and chickens running around, lots of farmed land, etc. We found many people working in their shambas (gardens) and we stopped along the way to chat with several people. At one house, one of the men showed me how to use a hoe and work in the shamba.
In the afternoon we visited some of Elly and Caroline’s friends in the village. One of the people we visited was an old lady who had been the chief brewer in the village for 33 years. She brewed an illegal and very toxic alcoholic beverage called changaa. She would get drunk as early as 9 in the morning and stay drunk all day. Elly is a pastor and in 2004 he had organized an outreach to minister to the people in his village. This lady came to the outreach and decided to change her life and serve God. She stopped brewing and drinking, and Elly gave her some money to start a small business to sustain herself. She was a very nice lady and was very grateful that Elly had brought visitors to come see her. She told me that she wanted to give me something that I could take back to Elly’s house and eat later. So she walked out of the house and came back with a live chicken!!! I was so shocked – nobody has ever given me a chicken before!
On Tuesday morning we headed out of the village to try to find a ministry called St Luke’s which works in another part of Kisumu. A good friend of mine from the states, Ken Prussner, has started an NGO called STARS Children Africa to assist orphaned children in Africa with secondary school fees. He had been introduced to the pastor running St. Luke’s and they have worked together to send 55 orphans to secondary school. Primary school is free in Kenya but secondary school is not, and many children with two parents cannot even afford it. Therefore, most orphans are forced to drop out of school after grade 8.
Elly’s house is very far from the main road, so we had to walk for about 15 minutes and then get on boda-bodas. Boda-bodas are bicycles with seats on the back. There are many of these all over Kisumu - you pay between 30 cents and a dollar, jump on back of the bike, and the driver will take you where you want to go. They’re a lot of fun and I got many amused looks when the villagers saw a white woman flying through their village on the back of a bicycle!
Once we got to the main road, we took a matatu (15 person van) to the town where St. Luke’s is. However, St. Luke’s is very far from the main road. So we boarded into the back of a vehicle with two benches on each side, which could comfortably fit about 4 people on each side, but we had 7 on each side! The vehicle was very hot and one of the women had just bought fish from the market, so you can image how the inside of that humid vehicle was smelling! We went for about 15 minutes in the car, jumped on some more boda-bodas, and finally arrived at St. Luke’s.
St. Luke’s was started three years ago and the compound has a church and a children’s home. We had a very nice visit and on the way back to Kisumu we stopped at one of the local secondary schools where St Luke’s was sponsoring 14 orphans. We talked with the headmaster of the school and asked if we could take a picture of the orphaned children. We went to the front of the school and more and more kids started coming out of the classrooms to be in the picture. I thought they must have misunderstood. When I mentioned to the headmaster that we only wanted a photo of the orphaned children and not all of them, he replied that 81 out of 190 students in the school are orphans!
We were all shocked that there were so many orphans at that school – Nyanza, the district that Kisumu is in, is the worst hit by HIV/AIDS in the entire country. In fact, Elly had planned for us to visit one woman in his village but she died from AIDS on Monday morning so we were not able to. One of the major problems in that district is the Luo tradition of “wife inheritance,” where a man’s brother will “inherit” his wife if he dies. Originally, this tradition was somewhat beneficial to the woman and children in a male dominated society where they would really struggle to survive without a man. However, because of AIDS, this tradition is wiping out entire families. Usually, when a couple is HIV positive, the man will die first. Because someone can have HIV for many years without showing symptoms, the woman often appears to be very healthy. Therefore, she will be “inherited” and then pass HIV to her brother in law, who will then also pass it on to his wife. When that man dies, his HIV-positive wife will be inherited by another brother, and the cycle will continue.
After we got back to Kisumu, we headed to Lake Victoria, one of the largest lakes in East Africa, surrounded by Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. It was getting late, but we had time for a quick 15 minute boat ride (the boat was just a large canoe with a small motor attached to the back, but it was fun.) Then we headed back to Elly’s house - our trip from Kisumu back to Elly’s village was quite an adventure!
We boarded a matatu but 5 minutes into the journey we got a flat tire. They finally got it fixed and we all climbed back into the matatu, but ten minutes later there was another flat tire! This time there was no spare so we had to wait for another matatu to pass that had extra space. By the time we reached the town near Elly’s house, it was after 7 pm and it was already dark (Unlike Nairobi, rural Kisumu has very little crime or insecurity, so being out at night is not a problem.) Walking would have taken at least an hour and a half, so we boarded boda-bodas again (they had little lights in the front) and headed for his house. After we were going for about 15 minutes one of the bicycles got a flat tire!!! We couldn’t believe it. So we flagged down another bicycle and kept going. Then it started raining! I could not believe I was riding on the back of a bicycle in the dark and in the rain in the middle of a village. It was crazy. I was very glad when we finally reached his house after a 45 minute bike ride. We relaxed for the rest of the evening and enjoyed my chicken for dinner.
On Wednesday morning we woke up to pouring rains but we had to head to Kisumu at 630 to make our 9am bus back to Nairobi. Once again, we had to ride on the bicycles in the rain and I was covered in mud by the time we reached Kisumu. We made the bus and started our long and bumpy trip back to Nairobi.