Kisii, to Kilgoris, to Enenkeshui and back
Published from way back in Canada
In early 2011 I decided to begin sponsoring a child through Compassion. I had seen presentations by Compassion at various Christian conferences but didn't like the idea of making such a spur-of-the-moment financial commitment. But living in Montreal with a decent salary, I decided it was time to sign up. I logged on to compassion.ca and looked through the suggestions of most needy children. It may have been my two-week trip to Kenya in 2008 that inclined me to choose a boy from that country, but in any case, I found Leparan and began my sponsorship.
Fast forward to July 2012 and I find myself back in Kenya for a one-year term of volunteer work. I had my hands full trying to get up to speed with the OpenHMIS project (not to mention life in Nairobi), and once I got up to speed, it was hard to slow down, but I always had it in the back of my mind that the child I was sponsoring was only a few hundred kilometres away, and I knew that it would be a shame if I left Kenya without visiting him.
I contacted Compassion Canada through their website and got in touch right away with a staff member who was very helpful in getting me through a small amount of paperwork and giving me the information I needed to plan my trip. I opted to organize my own transportation, but Compassion outlined all the other expenses I could expect and indicated where I would find a hotel near the project.
On the Thursday morning of May 9th, I took a bus downtown to the Easy Coach station and was on my way by nine o'clock. I dozed on and off as we rolled in sunny weather toward Kisii, past increasingly green countryside. I was dropped off at the Kisii station around 3:30 pm and proceeded straight to the matatu stop at the petrol station next to the road out to Kilgoris. I didn't think it was terribly far to Kilgoris, and the initial asking price of 200 shillings for a ride struck me as a bit steep. Being wary of mzungu prices, I asked if they couldn't do a bit better. They accepted and squeezed me into an overloaded Toyota minibus for 150 bob.
I later discovered that 200 was actually the going rate for fare between Kilgoris and Kisii. You win some and you lose some—this time I won.
I arrived in Kilgoris as the sun was setting and had the conductor drop me off where I thought I saw a sign for the Seasons' Farmers Hotel. Fortunately my eyes hadn't failed me, and I found a very comfortable hotel only a short walk from the main road. After refreshing meal of ugali, sukuma and beef stew, and a friendly conversation with Eric, the server, I settled into my room. I felt like I was on an adventure. Although the journey had been only a day, I found myself thanking God for how far he had brought me—not only that day, but the rest of the year, and in fact the rest of my life.
Friday morning my host John met me outside the hotel, along with the driver of a big SUV. We stopped by a local grocery store to fill up a food basket for Leparan and his family, then headed straight out to the Compassion project called Enenkeshui, which is a Maasai name that means “a place of blessing,” or so I was told!
I met Leparan right away, and messed up the Maasai greeting (I went for the handshake, but touching his head would have been appropriate). He seemed pretty shy, but then again what upcountry kid wouldn't be when his rich white foreign sponsor shows up to see him. We did some formal introductions—I met each of the Compassion staff there and heard a little about their roles. I reviewed Leparan's file, and then we sat down to chai.
I must admit that I was surprised at how few words Leparan and I exchanged. Of course he spoke very little English—mostly Maasai and Swahili—and the Compassion staff didn't really create time for us to have much of a conversation. Instead I attempted to wield my limited and clumsy Swahili to try to communicate that he was more than just a number at a project to me; the fleeting but sincere smiles that I saw from him make me think that I may have succeeded. Shortly after chai we were setting off in the vehicle to visit Leparan's family at his home.
The meeting with Leparan's family was brief, but good. I was really happy to see his home and to meet his father and stepmother, and some of his brothers and sisters. We sat down, they passed around sodas, and then we exchanged some gifts.
A hammer for Leparan's father.
A cooking pot for his mom.
A soccer ball for Leparan.
Then I was presented with some cool Maasai jewellery and my very own Maasai shuka.
Before I knew it, John was telling me that it was time to head back to Enenkeshui for lunch and to wrap up the visit. After a hearty lunch, Leparan and I planted a tree to commemorate the day and the visit.
The visit seemed really short, but John and the driver were a little worried about getting back to town on the dirt roads if it rained, so I said goodbye to Leparan and the staff and headed back to Kilgoris. I hopped a matatu back to Kisii and was there by about 4:30 pm, five hours before my bus was scheduled to leave.
Killing time in a small Kenyan town is a bit trickier if you're a fair-skinned mzungu, but I visited the local cyber cafe to send a quick email, and then spent a few hours outside the Easy Coach station chatting with locals, which I enjoyed more than I would have guessed. Some guys next door were busy until after the sun had set sewing and ironing brand new suits that could be purchased for only about 3000 shillings (or 35 dollars).
At 9:30 I caught my night bus back to Nairobi. It had been a packed two days, but a really unique Kenyan experience. When I travelled Kenya for two weeks in 2008, I saw a lot of animals. This time, I feel like I've seen a lot of people and had a better chance to peer into their thoughts and lives. Now when Leparan and I correspond across huge distances, we can look back on the time when we walked together in Maasai land and stood face to face.