Home away from home

I’m reposting this here, because it looks like the photos didn’t come through the first time….

I feel like I have arrived home, at Betty’s sister’s apartment in Kisumu. Everybody comes to meet us: Nancy, Natasha, Rita, Rollin, Evelyn, Nicolette, and Night. Others will come on Sunday, when we get back from Homa Bay. They are so welcoming, and warm up to us quickly so that we can talk openly. Richard falls in love with Nancy’s baby Natasha, who clearly can’t get over how odd we look. By the end of the evening she is grinning at us though, and relaxing with the new situation. There are five women and one baby in the tiny kitchen, everyone working on a task to make dinner. I hold Natasha, but am terrified that with all the commotion, two hot stoves, one propane and one charcoal, cooking on the floor, and with the sweat pouring off my body in the heat, that I will drop Natasha and hurt her. I hold her tightly on my hip, while she cranes around, looking for the security of her mama. The ladies murmur and laugh in Kiswahili, and I stand and watch, wishing I could be more useful. I discover our photos on the wall, along with Ben’s, all the sisters, and their parents. I am so honored! Betty arrives by the evening bus from Nairobi, and she is relaxed and vibrant. After having spent a month with her, I wonder how I ever could have thought her shy. How our eyes can open.

20130729-093200.jpg Night, Nancy, and Rita cooking up a storm

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20130729-093718.jpg Chapati making Sunday, returning from Homa Bay to Kisumu After a couple of days in Homa Bay, visiting Betty’s school (see Ombogo post) we came back to Kisumu, and our home away from home. The apartment is much smaller than the house of Honorable Philip Okundi, the owner of Ombogo and the family who hosted us during our Homa Bay visit. But I am so comfortable here with Betty’s extended family, which is so down to earth and real, and so sincere in its welcome. After getting settled and having lunch, the whole family piles back into the van, and Betty tells us we were going to see Ben (the oldest brother, who passed away 3 years ago.) Richard and I have no idea where we were going; I assume we were going to pay our respects at Ben’s grave. A few kilometers outside of town, we pull into a grassy lane, beyond which is a lovely meadow with fruit trees: papaya, mango, avocado, lemons, bananas…..the property is deep, with a field of maize, and a spot where a stream flows in the rainy season. This is the original family homestead. In the middle of the field are three graves: the Ouko girls’ mother, father, and Ben, aligned to the axis of the original house, which is now gone.

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20130729-102110.jpg Betty’s grandparents rest in graves in the middle of the maize field behind their property. In Luo tradition, the son must move, and establish his own property, adjacent to his parents’. So Betty’s father developed this beautiful little plot, built a house large enough for his wife and five children, and planted enough trees and food that the family had sufficient food and fuel. Betty has fond memories of climbing trees and picking fruit, and playing in the fields; a safe and secure childhood. It’s so easy to lose your footing here. First, Betty’s father died, when she was quite young. When she was ten, her mother died. Traumatized, Betty refused to go back to school, so her brother Ben (now the head of the family) sent her to boarding school (now I get it – this girl has a very strong will! No wonder he had to send her off to make sure she went to school!) – at ten years old. When Ben died, the four sisters were the only immediate family members left. Their uncle, who lived on a homestead close by, contested for the ownership of the property, because in Kenya, a woman cannot own the land of her parents. So along with so many other losses, there is now a struggle for the land that her parents are buried on, and her childhood home. The tribal elders were consulted, and they denied the uncle access, but the Ouko girls still must come up with the money for the legal deed to the property before the case is settled. It seems there is no end to the strife an individual can endure in this country, and no end to the jealousy that one person feels for another, who might have just a little bit more than they do. I see this as a result of desperation. But the Ouko girls are used to this, and they are able to enjoy the visit and show us the property with fondness. We take LOTS of photos, both here and back at Nancy’s house.

20130729-105542.jpg From left to right, the sisters: Rose, Nancy, Rita, Betty

20130729-110007.jpg Touring the homestead

20130729-110315.jpg Left to right: cousin Nancy Night, Sister Nancy with her baby, Natasha, Richard, sister Rita, and Rose’s daughter Nicolette

7 Comments

  1. willis
    Posted July 30, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Now you can begin the journey of Kenya with a clear mind. Welcome to Obama’s fatherland.

  2. WILLIS SANDE
    Posted August 1, 2013 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    It would take a very strong willed person to survive through this.

  3. gwebb
    Posted August 1, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Caryn and Richard, the photographs are stunning, and your commentary, Caryn, has opened up a world that now is real to us in ways we couldn’t know otherwise. You and your readers will remember this trip for a long time. – Glenn

  4. andrea
    Posted August 1, 2013 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    I got all the pics the first time. And this 2nd time. Have a safe trip home.

  5. andrea
    Posted August 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Was also wondering, how is it all the girls, their belated brother and even the children have American names, despite being born and raised in Africa?

  6. Posted August 1, 2013 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Christianity came early to Africa, with colonization. Thus the western names. The surnames are African, and often indicative of tribal roots. One curious thing is that some people, and indeed some villages, have a habit of naming their children after current, or popular, leaders, or whoever is in vogue at time. So there are currently lots of little kids running around with the name “Obama.” I met a kid named Clinton, and lots of Kenyatta’s (a former, and more recent elected president of Kenya.

    Another thing, that I found interesting, is that you may have noticed that Betty’s cousin Nancy also has the name “Night”, and also “Atieno,” which means Night in Swahili. She has this name because she was born at night. If you are born in the afternoon, you have that added to your name, or Morning if you were born at that time. But I can’t remember the Swahili for those words…

  7. Posted August 2, 2013 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks for letting me know. On my iPad, the pics for that particular post won’t come up for some reason, when I download it. Same thing happened on the computer at the Amsterdam hotel where we are now, with a long wait before our next flight to the states (actually a good flight pattern, since we were able to get a full nits sleep between the 10 hour and 8 hour flights, at this crazy, ultra hip airport hotel.)

    Aren’t the Ouko girls (Betty’s family) beautiful?

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