Safari with Mama

Mom made it to Kenya!

Mom arrived in Nairobi on Saturday, April 7. I met her at the airport and the following morning we departed for Siaya, taking the Easycoach bus direct from Nairobi to Siaya (1400 Kshs ~$14 USD). Our bus left at 7:30am and we arrived in Siaya around 5:30, and fortunately had great weather, which permitted fabulous views of the Great Rift Valley. Once we arrived in Siaya, we hustled through town to purchase some produce before the rain began. My headteacher, Ambalo, met us at the bus station as drops of water threatened to arouse the mud. He drove us to Nina as the mud grew deeper and helped us unload our luggage in my house. The kids were seeking shelter from the rain in the dormitory, which prevented us from meeting them until the following morning.

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Karibu Kenya, mom! Waiting for the Easycoach bus in Nairobi on her first day. Next stop: Siaya

That night, I cooked mom’s first Kenyan meal – sukuma and sossi (kale and soy meat). We relaxed and sipped on some tea from Anjeline, the housemother, who rushed it over as soon as we arrived at the house, claiming she had prepared it in the morning and waited all day for us to arrive 🙂  After dinner and tea, we fell asleep to rain drumming on the tin roof.

Ugali and sukuma

Monday morning: we woke up to the sounds of my kids excitedly getting ready to go home. After some breakfast and tea, we opened my door for the kids to stop by as they pleased. With all of the rain from the night before, it was too muddy to be hanging out with them outside, so the brave ones knocked on the door for introductions while the shy ones sneaked glances in my house as they passed by. Jeph and Ruth, two of my colleagues at the school, also came to meet mom and visit. The rest of the teachers were at a sports competition at Maseno, a town between Siaya and Kisumu. Parents came and collected their kids throughout the day, and by lunchtime most had gone home. Mom and I joined Ruth and Jeph for lunch, sukuma, ugali and omena (fish similar to minnows) before locking up my house and traveling to Siaya town.

Once in Siaya town, we visited the bank to exchange USD for Kenyan Shillings. Because Tuesday had been declared a national holiday (inauguration of the new president, Uhuru Kenyatta), the lines at the bank were horrific. We waited for over two hours in the VIP waiting room before making the 2 minute transaction. Afterwards, we explored Siaya town and visited my local supermarkets, tried some street food (samosa, sim sim, roasted maize) and visited Pastor Edward, my local shoe fundi (craftsman). We returned to our hotel, the Siaya Center, just before the rain began. Here, we enjoyed fish and chips (french fries) and sukuma (cooked kale) with chapati (flatbread similar to naan or pita). Once our bellies were full, we returned to the room, where we actually watched TV before passing out.

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Edward’s hand crafted sandals displayed in his shop window in Siaya Town
Siaya Center hotel & restaurant. Great for creeping on unsuspecting pedestrians from the dining area balcony

Day 3: Tuesday. Fortunately, despite the rainy season, we experienced beautiful, sunny days. After eating breakfast at the Siaya Center, we prepared ourselves for the matatu ride from Siaya to Maseno, where my kids were competing for Provincial Sports. This being mom’s first experience, I made sure she got a good seat where she wouldn’t be getting in and out repeatedly, or sniffing the touts fragrant armpits. I sat in the back while she sat in the front row, and we bounced, jiggled and jolted for about an hour, until we reached Maseno. Once we arrived, Ambalo and Dorine met us along the road and guided us to the field where the kids were competing. We were seated with several other teachers under a shade tree near the finish line (it was track/field day), right beside of the loudspeaker, which fortunately (only for the hearing, I suppose. Still wondering why bother hiring/paying a DJ for a deaf event) blared more music than commentary. We spent about 4 hours watching the kids compete with other deaf schools before deciding to return to Siaya. Once we decided to leave, Ambalo insisted on showing us Maseno School for the Deaf, which was only about a 20 minute walk from this field. This school was huge and inspiring, with over a dozen separate classrooms, a real kitchen and dining hall, separate dormitory facilities and a large milk cow project. Again, fortunately the weather cooperated and we were able to board the matatu back to Siaya just in time to avoid the rain.

At Maseno for Provincial Sports with my friends and colleagues, Dorine and George.
At Maseno for Provincial Sports with my friends and colleagues, Dorine and George.
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My little Emelda, #1 in the sack race!

Day 4: Wednesday. This was our last day in Siaya. On this day, we went to visit a friend of mine, Stephen, and his family in Ulafu. Ulafu is a small village between Siaya and Nina, along the dirt road I commute regularly. Stephen works at Nina, chopping firewood, slashing grass, cooking, helping with the kids – pretty much anything you could imagine, Stephen does. So anyways, mom and I went to visit his family at their home. He has two boys, Arnold and Daniel, who are both under 5. We enjoyed a homecooked meal here before returning to Siaya for our last night.

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Stephen holding Arnold, and his wife Beatrice holding Daniel

I began writing this post just as we left Siaya, but seeing as I just took mom to the airport for her return flight to America, the days have become a bit blurry. I can’t be as detailed now, looking back, which is probably to your benefit.

After Siaya, we passed through Kisumu and caught a bus to Nairobi. The trip into Nairobi was probably the worst I have ever had, only due to traffic in Nairobi, which was actually typical. Normally I alight before entering Downtown Nairobi, and therefore avoid the atrocious traffic jams. But since we had luggage in the boot of the bus, we were forced to continue the trip to the final destination – the stage in downtown. It took hours (seriously, 2 hours) to complete a journey which takes only 30 minutes in light traffic. Part of the reason was simply rush hour (with schools closing, all kids were traveling home from boarding school to be with their families), while the other part was corruption. Our driver was actually arrested in Nairobi and forced to go with the police for about 45 minutes while we passengers remained on the bus, pulled off to the farthest lane of traffic in effort to NOT block already jammed roads. It was a fiasco. We were supposed to arrive at the stage at 4 and we made it around 8.

Anyways, after that experience, we decided to investigate flights to the coast. Fortunately, it didn’t take much investigating to establish that this would be the more practical option.

DSCF1038 DSCF1061Watamu. Malindi. Heaven. It’s all the same. Check out the pictures if you need proof. While we were here, I made sure that we tried pretty much every single Kenyan dish out there. We also experienced almost all forms of transportation – walking (a lot!), tuk tuk’s, matatus (which were so much nicer than the ones in Siaya), taxis, and maybe a few others. Because it wasn’t peak season, several of the shops and restaurants I had planned on showing here weren’t open. Despite this, we were still able to do TONS of shopping and eat lots of great food. We spent the days alternating between lazing on the beach (or by the pool), shopping and eating. What more could a girl want? We even got pedicures by the pool one morning. Seriously, heaven on earth.

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Tuk Tuks, waiting for business
With our taxi driver, Nicholas

But all good things must come to an end, or at least to a pause. Despite extending our stay an extra night, we had to face the fact that as heavenly as Watamu may be, it’s not our home. After 6 days, we had to pack our bags (or should I say stuff?) and return to Nairobi for mom’s departure.

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We were able to explore Nairobi a bit before she left, visiting the National Museum and several of my favorite shopping areas and restaurants. And now it’s over, and I’m back in our hotel room wondering where the last 2 weeks went.. funny how time goes. I’ll be home before I know it.

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