jamaa yangu

I can’t even begin to explain how kind the people of Kenya have been towards me so far. My host family is absolutely amazing, the most kind people I have ever met. So, this morning we woke up and had breakfast at 7, followed by KiSwahili class from 8-10. At ten, families began to arrive. Mind you, so far we have only learned greetings, words for members of the family, and what is your name/where are you from. Not a lot for conversation with a foreign family! That being said, all trainees were extremely nervous about meeting their new family with whom they will be residing for the upcoming ten weeks. I was extremely worried, for various unidentified reasons, really.. but primarily due to the fact that I’m struggling to learn this new language. I was terrified that I would not be able to communicate, and concerned that I may make some naïve mistake which would offend my new family. The trainers gave us an index card, and on one side it had my name (spelled incorrectly, “Kesley”) and on the other it had “Penina,” the name of my new mama. After walking into the crowded room, full of anxious trainees and families awaiting their new child, I spotted a woman with my name on her card. After uniting, all anxiety went out the window. Her English is perfect! She was accompanied by her eldest daughter, Tabby – 30, and her husband Antony. We grabbed some chai and snacks, then claimed a table for our first conversation. Penina is a KiSwahili/English teacher at a girl’s school in Machakos. She has 4 children, between ages 22 and 30. Tabby is a banker, and has a child named Wesley, 6, who has autism. Her second is a son, Brian, who is a DJ in a town near Nairobi. Third is Vivian, a lawyer who lives with Tabby in Nairobi and has an adorable 2 year old named Naima. Their youngest daughter, Sandra, joined us shortly after the meeting began. She is studying business in college currently, but hopes to move to Australia eventually. The entire family was so kind and caring from the very beginning. After we met, they helped me carry all of my bulky luggage to their personal vehicle and we went to a supermarket to get a few items for the house.
Once we arrived at the house, I met Naima and Wesley. Naima was extremely shy, but possibly the most adorable 2 year old I have ever seen. Once she was tired of staring at me, which took about 30 minutes at least, she began trying to communicate with me. You know the show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” well, let’s try a 2 year old. She babbled to me nonstop, but I only understood one thing, “kuja” which means “follow.” She talked and talked, and motioned for me to follow, and eventually it clicked. I also understood “wewe” which means “you” but unfortunately, I could not understand exactly what she was saying about me or to me. Later my mama told me she was trying to get me to play in the water with her. She showed me the farm, which consisted of about 5 milk cows and several chickens. All of the animals are in a barn-like structure, and they do not roam. They use the milk here and obviously eat the chickens. The family knows that I am a vegetarian, but I have agreed to be lenient and told them I will eat meat when other options are not available. They are very eager to please me and offer to help me constantly.
After Naima and Wesley departed with Tabby, Sandi helped me unpack my belongings. She is extremely petite, coming up only to my shoulders. She is also very quiet, but has perfect English like her mama and dada. She was very sweet, and unpacked all of my things from my Ziploc bags and little pockets, and when mama came into the room and said that my table was too crowded, she immediately began moving things into my wardrobe. She then hung my mosquito net for me, without even being cued or asked. Like I said, so helpful.
About my room. And the house. The house if very, very nice. We have a large living room with all matching furniture; two couches, two chairs, and two sofas. There is also a TV and an enormous entertainment center surrounding it for storage. There is a formal dining area and a large kitchen. My family has a refrigerator, microwave, deep freezer, and stove in the kitchen as well as a washing machine for laundry. However, it has been too dry so they fetch their water and are unable to use the laundry machine. They have hired house help, who helps take care of the young children while they are gone, cleans the house, washes dishes and clothes, etc. Their names are Miriam and Maggie. We have an indoor toilet and an indoor bathing room, separate from each other. The toilet is a Western toilet, like those in America. However, it does not flush. There is a large bucket of water outside of the toilet room, and before you “do your business,” you fill the bucket with water and take it in with you to flush afterwards. The bathing room is simply a closet size room with concrete floor (as is the whole house) which has a drain. My bedroom is a decent size and has a large wardrobe in which I can easily fit all of my clothes and shoes. I have a table with a chair, a full size bed, large window, and a sink. Like I said earlier, there is not enough water for it to be running in the house, even though it is equipped.
Once I settled into my room, we had chai and relaxed in the living room. My mama can’t wait to talk to my mama from home. She has mentioned it several times, and is dying to “hear her voice.” In fact, she insists on getting a cell phone tomorrow for two reasons: to check in and make sure I am ok and to talk to my mama.
We had dinner around 7:30pm, which consisted of cooked bananas, vegetable casserole, fried fish, and pineapple. These are the words that they used to describe the meal. Let me clarify: the bananas could have possibly been plantains, or something similar. They were not bananas as we know them, definitely not sweet or moist. They were cooked in a light tomato sauce on the stove top and had a salty, tangy flavor, yet they were dry and I had to drink a lot of water to wash them down. I did like them, though. The “vegetable casserole” was shredded cabbage, carrots, green beans, and maybe a few other mystery vegetables cooked in some kind of light sauce. They call the green beans “French peas.” It is also very good, and I have had it with nearly every meal in Kenya so far. The fish was fabulous. So good. I loved it. Sandi made it, and I don’t know what she did, but it was GOOD. The pineapple came after the meal, and it was amazing as well. So much better than the pineapple which I am accustomed to. They have served fruit after every meal so far, including breakfast.
After dinner I took a bucket bath, first ever! Sandi heated the water for me, over the stove. After you heat it, you add cool water until it is comfortable. Then you go in the bathing room, set your basin of water on a stool, and begin to bathe as you can imagine using a ~5 gallon basin and a washcloth. I tried to wash my hair first, but I’m not sure how well it worked. Let you know tomorrow after it dries out. It will be a change, but really not too bad. In fact, I kind of liked it, other than feeling very cold while I stand there wet and naked.
I then started getting ready for bed in my room and mama came to check on me after about 5-10 minutes. I had been warned that they worry when you stay in your room for extended periods of time, but it was a little amusing because I had just finished my shower and simply needed to put on some clothes. Anyways, we all watched soap operas for a few minutes, which were Mexican (funny, huh?) and then Sandi and I went to bed. After mama told me she can’t wait to hear my mama’s voice, again.
I’m excited for tomorrow, to go to class and talk about my new family and to go to town and buy some new things. I was so worried, and yesterday I had my first moment of “wtf did I get myself into,” but I feel reassured now and absolutely love my family. I’m not very good at expressing gratitude or sharing my appreciation, but I told them several times how much I appreciate their generosity and kindness. I just feel like I say it too much, like it doesn’t do their kindness justice.

6 thoughts on “jamaa yangu

  1. This is all so exciting! I was sitting here reading like ooh what happens next! lol I am so glad you are having a great experience. It’s great to hear that your host family speaks English, to be honest i was worried about the idea of you with a family who speaks no English! lol Can’t wait to hear more!!!! And i have your new address all ready to send you some junk lol ready for some mascara 😉 haha!

  2. I’m so glad you have a wonderful family there. I will look forward to more news. I love your descriptions about everything…you have to get a camera!

  3. I agree with mom–love the detailed descriptions! Glad your host family is awesome. Sounds like the food is, too. Mmmmmmmmm. Good luck with the language learning, and keep posting as often as you can!

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