27 December 2010

J's Trip to Kenya - Part IV

Saturday 4th December
I can’t believe there is only one more day left on our rural retreat! I am managing to eat most of what is put in front of me (apart from the tripe and the intestines) and my embarrassment about using the outside loo is abating.  However, I do need to find another place to empty my overnight ‘water’ bottle as the calf outside my bedroom window retaliates by pooing directly underneath the window! Tonight the visiting Pastors are going to finish their programme by anointing the local villagers in advance of the Baptisms taking place tomorrow and there is to be a Revival Rock Concert tonight which may actually rival X Factor.

Sunday 5th December
The church service ‘rocked’ last night until 1:00 in the morning, Our local kids from Kisumu tried desperately to out-sing and out-dance the kids from the local village. It was an amazing atmosphere, the praise and worship was unlike anything I had ever been involved in before.  My British reserve diminished as the night wore on and (unfortunately) I have the video to prove it though if my daughter were to see me dancing and singing Gospel, I know that she would disown me. Roll on their trip next Easter!! 

Monday 6th December
Moses' Wife Tatu and Vashi
By day 5 of my rural retreat, I was feeling relaxed and pampered.  I would wake to hear Florence singing in the kitchen as she sparked the gas burner ready to prepare the breakfast tea. We would practice alternately, Swahili, French and pronunciation of certain English words, shouting them backwards and forth between the open rafters. I could earwig to ‘family’ conversations and though largely spoken in Swahili, I would intuitively understand Moses crooning to 18 month old Vashi when she woke in the middle of the night or hear his wife, Tatu, saying her prayers before falling asleep.  The lack of privacy fosters a sharing, a closeness and a humour that I have rarely experienced before – and despite the space we have available to us as a family in France, I would return to these cramped conditions in a heartbeat!

Travel in Kenya
Before we knew it, it was time to pack to go back to the city. Magdalena and the girls were driven home, goodbyes were said, many photographs taken, rooms swept, remaining cabbages put in the boot and promises made to return. As the boys from Kibos drove the jeep home the previous night, piled high with mattresses, I began to wonder how we would all fit in the car.

Our drive home took two and half hours and comprised 5 adults, 2 ten year olds, 1 toddler and a live chicken with a plastic bag wrapped around its bottom....a happy moment as John Felix cuddled into me and slept on my knee for the whole of the journey.

Magdalena’s Story
Moses with his sister Magdalena
As I sat on the grass with the tiny ones who had joined us, Moses sister and Anton’s mum, Magdalena, arrived. Moses had driven me over to meet his sister on the Wednesday evening.  Her story is a particularly sad one.  As a young girl, Magdalena had met and married her husband.  For many years they had enjoyed a reasonably happy life, building up his business.  Her husband was a vet so they were able to lead a fairly affluent lifestyle, certainly by African standards. Magdalena ran the office and gave him all the support a good wife can, in between giving birth to six children.  They each had a car and during the good times built a large and comfortable house in their rural home community.  But as the years passed, her husband took a second and then a third wife as they can do in Kenyan society.  He continued to support the 6 children along with numerous others now from his polygamous lifestyle.

As Magdalena talked to me, I could see the hurt and embarrassment that she still felt in retelling this story.  Not only having to live on a daily basis with his unfaithfulness, disaster stuck one day when he came home to say that he had been  diagnosed with HIV. Mercifully she and her children had been unaffected.  However, as he became ill and eventually hospitalised, every single thing that they had built up during their life together had to be sold to pay for his treatment.  The other two ‘wives’ were uninterested and it was Magdalena who nursed him on a daily basis at the same time as selling up everything they owned in order to pay the bills. The cars, the lab equipment, the house in Kisumu – everything had to be sold.  

When he eventually died, with nothing left and no job, Magdalena had no other course of action than to return to her rural community and to the house they had built during the ‘good’ times. Now many years on, this house stood vandalised, inhabited by bees and damaged by bats. The large, (but now rusted) iron gate at the entrance to the estate, told of the grandeur of the house. This once elegant building stood forlorn, no water, no electricity, hardly a pane of glass remaining - the master bedroom and bathroom overrun with rats bigger than the stray cat that occupied the porch.

I was shocked to see Magdalena existing in such a poverty stricken environment.  Her photographs show her as an elegant and beautiful woman. She is easy to be around, has a quick intelligence and a gentle sense of humour. She welcomed me into her house and served tea in a china cup as well as ground nuts (collected in the garden) which she had roasted and salted.

Once again, I lost sleep thinking about Magdalena and her situation. When a distant relative and his young wife succumbed to Aids last year, leaving their 2 year old child orphaned, because the child tested positive with HIV, none of their closest relative would take her in. Despite her hardship and desperately trying to eke out an existence for herself and two youngest daughters, Magdalena took the child in and now regards Virginie as one of her own. For me it was incredibly poingnant seeing this elderly grandmother measure out the antiviral dosages each morning. 

Virginie is just like every other 3 year old - shy, giggly, loves cuddles and being read to. The only difference is that she carries her own metal cup to drink out of, a reminder of the terrible, infectious nature of the illness she carries. 

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