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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Simple LIfe

Mon. May 26, 2008

Today Anthony and Catherine picked me up at 1:00pm and we headed out to meet Catherine’s parents. Her cousin’s son, William, came long for the ride as well. Along the way we stopped for a breathtaking view over the Rift Valley. Her parents live just outside of Olkalau which is in the central province of the country. To get there you must really know the roads because there are no signs and the turns are easily missed! Once we turned off of the main road, there was no paving, the roads were incredibly bumpy, with dips and rocks and you had to drive VERY slowly. We passed through one last small town and then there was nothing for miles! We came to a gate in the middle of nowhere and Catherine’s father came out and opened it. We drove over more bumps and came to another gate which opened to reveal her parents’ home. To say it is modest is an understatement. It was as simple as you can imagine but so functional. I felt like I was taken back to another time! I was brought into a sitting room with some sofas and chairs all covered in matching fabric, the walls were plain but had family photos up along the top. There was one lone light on the ceiling that was not turned on. I sat with Joseph, Catherine’s father and Anthony while Catherine helped her mother and brought out dishes. Kenyans are extremely hospitable people and you can not enter someone’s home without being offered at ;least some tea. It is actually and insult if you do not accept. Joseph is very quiet and although he does understand a little and speak a little English, he did not say very much.

Eventually Catherine’s mother, Felista entered. She is a warm, jovial woman with quite a sense of humor. She was a bit shy at first but by the time I left we were fast friends! She speaks VERY little English so Catherine acted as interpreter. She had prepared a stew which consisted of a clear broth, tender pieces of beef and potatoes. It was delicious! She also had prepared fresh chapati which is similar to a pita bread, baked fresh in an open stove fireplace and made from wheat flour. This meal was followed by Kenyan tea. I ate my stew and some chapatti and when I was finished my stew I was nibbling on another piece of my chapati. All of a sudden Catherine stops pouring tea and says “oh, you want more stew”? I said no thank you, I’m good. So everyone said “you’re just eating the chapatti by itself”. Then Catherine said “you can eat the chapatti with your tea”. I didn’t realize you were supposed to eat it with something else LOL

While we were talking I learned that everything in the stew was fresh and except for the beef, everything was grown right there in their own fields. I learned that there is no electricity in the house, only a solar panel and only one light could be on at any given time. After the meal, I needed to use a restroom so I was directed to the bathroom, OUTSIDE. You’ve all heard of porta pottys but this was not even a porta-potty! It is literally a triangular hole in a slab of cement with a little shack around it! I was so afraid that I would miss the hole! Thankfully there was a roll of toilet paper hanging from the wall! When you exit, you come back around the chicken coups and there is a spigot outside where you rinse your hands. When I finished washing my hands I saw a young girl approach. I learned her name was Leila and she saw my camera. I handed it to her and taught her how to use it. She was so thrilled! She took many photos and then I showed her how to use the video. She was a beautiful little girl and I couldn’t believe when I learned she was 15! Compared to what 15 year olds look like in the US, she looked 10!

I heard Felista calling me so I went into the building directly across from the house and entered the “kitchen”. The kitchen consists of a fireplace, stone shelves and a bunch of pots. There is no refrigerator, no sink, no cabinets. It is the barest minimum! The dishes are all washed using a tub filled with water from the spigot. Water has to be heated to get it warm. There is a water tank on the property. Chickens were running around freely as were ducks. There is a chicken coup next to the kitchen. Felista invited me to go down to the fields so she could give Leila some fresh spinach that she had come to buy for her mother. I followed them down to the fields and it was amazing. Rows and rows of fresh vegetables including spinach, cabbage, potatoes, beans, zucchini, and onions to name a few! I watched as this woman picked leaf after leaf of spinach and put it in a bag. She took the damaged leaves off and they went into a separate pile for the hens. Leila informed me that the hens are very happy to receive this and it helps them lay their eggs! In the meantime, a large Izusu truck pulled up and Catherine’s brother, Michael, and some other men began loading it with wooden posts. I’m not sure where they came from but they were loading 1000 posts which took them until well after dark!

When it was almost dark we returned from the fields and Leila paid for her goods and left. I went back into the sitting room where Anthony and some other friends of the family had gathered. I enjoyed another cup of tea and we all talked for awhile. Felista joined us but Catherine was in the kitchen across the way washing dishes. She said she did not want help, that when she visited her mother it was her pleasure to help her.

I think I mentioned that Felista has quite the sense of humor. When we were in the fields she asked me how old I was. I told her 47 today as it was my birthday. She told me she was 72! I could not believe it. Not only was this woman lugging sacks of potatoes around and now down picking spinach leaves and raising all these crops, but she looks fantastic! I kept trying to do the math, knowing that Catherine is soon to be 36 and she is only 3rd in the pecking order of 10 children! I finally got it out of Felista that she was just kidding me! She got a nice laugh out of it! It was very funny and we all had a laugh. While we were in the sitting room chatting, I kept hearing this “baaaaaaaaaah, baaaaaaaaaaaah” behind me. I was laughing every time. So Felista wanted me to go take pictures of the sheep but it was dark. When all of the visitors had gone, Joseph disappeared. A few minutes later Felista led me outside. We had to walk through another room that was pitch dark (the light was now on in the living room) and then outside. There I saw Joseph had rounded up all the sheep and Felista was waiting for me to take pictures! Well, when I walked outside my mouth dropped to the floor. I was literally stopped in my tracks by what I saw. Not the sheep; the SKY! Now my favorite place in the world has always been on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean at night with just the stars out, but, I this topped even that! I looked up and saw the MOST incredible sight I think I have EVER seen! Horizon to horizon was not only stars, but the brightest stars I have ever seen! I don’t know if it is because the altitude is so high, or because it is so dark there, but you just can not even imagine how gorgeous this was! I wanted to badly to be able to capture this but my camera is just not that sophisticated! I can only hope to be able to capture this for the film. I want everyone to see what I saw!

I took some photos of the sheep and then sat with Felista on a rock outside. They have two little dogs which are adorable but my favorite was “puppy”. He is only 3 weeks old and just the cutest little thing. I felt badly for him because I think he has fleas; he couldn’t stop scratching. I was told when you have dogs around chickens it’s hard for them not to have fleas.

I had the most amazing time. Felista wanted me to stay the night and not go back to Nairobi but Catherine had to be back to train in the morning. I am simply amazed by how simply they live! Can you imagine not have ONE bill to pay? Not ONE!!! They own the house that Catherine had built for them, they own the land, there’s no electric bill, no water bill, no sewer bill, no phone bill (they have a cell phone but in Kenya you just buy a card and activate more minutes. They grow their own food and what they don’t grow they buy with cash. Simple but they do work hard! Joseph tends to the animals and Felista tends to the crops and house and kitchen. Simple life but they do work hard! There is no TV but there is one radio in the kitchen. I am told there is another “bathroom” that is used at night so they don’t have to navigate to the outhouse in the dark. But simple is the only way to describe their lifestyle. It is in sharp contrast to Catherine and Anthony’s lifestyle and it is amazing that they choose to live this way. It is really a beautiful lifestyle even if I could not live it.

I was sad to leave but it was getting late. I loved meeting them and will miss them very much! I look forward to being back there again but it was still a two hour ride back. Along the way we stopped at Catherine’s brother & sister=in-law's house, Cyrus and Jane with their adorable little one year old boy, Paminas!

We had a cup of tea and dropped off some things for them and got on our way back. It was 11:30 by the time they dropped me off so I am sure Catherine and Anthony were exhausted as well.

It was a really nice day for my birthday!

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