I’m blogging from a small internet cafe on Rusinga Island, in Lake Victoria in western Kenya. I arrived here after two days of traveling….from Newark airport to Amsterdam to Nairobi to Kisumu.
When I arrived in Kisumu, the orphanage social worker Francis picked me up at the airport with his 10-year-old son Paul, who had made me a greeting sign.
They don’t own a car, so we took public transportation from Kisumu to Rusinga Island (about a 3 hour drive by car.) We took a taxi from the airport to the bus station, where we waited for about an hour before our small bus was ready to leave.
And then, with 18 people crammed into a 12-passenger bus, we took off for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the ferry.
The road didn’t have road markings. In the U.S., it would be a 2-lane road, but here they used it for 4 lanes (at least), with mopeds weaving in and out of traffic. Several times it looked like we were engaged in a game of “Chicken,” hurtling directly into another vehicle, before weaving at the last minute. Our closest call was with a truck loaded with petroleum. I closed my eyes and, since I was pressed for time, just prayed, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”
I opened my eyes to find we’d successfully avoided catastrophe.
The scenery along the way was gorgeous. It’s rainy season here, so the landscape was a lush, full, vivid green, with rolling hills in the background.
We loaded my bags onto the ferry, and the boat set sail for the island. I checked 3 bags, which were very heavy and mostly full of medical supplies — since the reason I came to Kenya was to start a medical clinic at the orphanage here.
My back ached from lugging these bags through customs and security checkpoints, and I was thankful for the strong men at the ferry who easily hoisted the bags onto their shoulders and put them on the boat for me.
Less than an hour later, we arrived on the island. Two men with motos (bigger than a moped but not as big as a motorcycle) picked us up. They stacked all three bags onto the back of one of the mopeds. As I watched with trepidation, Francis said, “Don’t worry, Sarah. Sometimes we put cows on the back.”
Sure enough, they were able to arrange and strap the bags in securely. One of the drivers took Paul, the 10-year-old boy. And Francis and I got on with the other driver.
Ten minutes later, we arrived at the homestead of Francis’ in-laws, who will be my host family while I’m here. There are acres of corn, beans and millet that they’re growing as subsistence crops for the family. There are also 5 cows, 6 chickens and several goats. Plus one very mellow dog.
The home consists of a main room with chairs and two couches arranged in a square around a coffee table. There’s a bed in the corner. Off the main room are two bedrooms, with curtains as doors. One of them was “my room,” and it had a wooden bed with a mattress (more like a fabric sac stuffed with cotton than the mattresses we have in the U.S.), and a mosquito net hung over the bed.
I didn’t know until I arrived here that the home — and the school the orphans attend — have no electricity or running water. Shortly after I arrived at the home, they asked if I would like to take a shower. I nodded gratefully. After 36 hours of travel and no sleep, a shower sounded heavenly. They led me about 35 yards from the house, where there were two outhouses. One was the latrine — a hole in the concrete floor with no toilet paper, water or soap. The other was a concrete floor with a drain.
So, with a 10-gallon bucket of warm water and a pitcher, I soaped up, rinsed off, and that was my shower. As I walked back the house in the pouring rain, I noticed huge buckets behind the house that had been set out to catch the rain to supply the family with water.
Between the house and the latrine is the kitchen, a small mud hut with a thatched roof. I could smell fragrant wood burning in the fire pit inside.
Dinner was served a while later and consisted of rice, sautéed cabbage and chicken pieces — which were served with a sauce of tomato paste and oil. When Francis uncovered the bowl of chicken, there was a cooked chicken head at the top — beak, eyes, everything.
We sat around eating, drinking tea and chatting for a long time. My hosts, who invited me to call the Mama (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, maMA) and Papa, and they immediately began to call me “daughter.” They told me I was welcome in their home, and that I had a mama and papa in Africa.
They were incredibly hospitable, and their kindness and joy were beautiful.
Eventually, it was time for bed. I sprayed myself with insect repellant, and climbed under the mosquito net. It was my first time using one. I had thought that the nets were used as blankets, but they’re actually more like a canopy, hung from a bar in the ceiling over the bed.
With a penlight and my phone next to me, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up for 13 hours.
Stay tuned! I’ll be posting more about my Kenya adventure in the days to come.