Dad came to visit in may. considering it was his first foray onto the international scene since his army days in germany, i was a little nervous at the prospect of hosting him for almost three weeks. since he was coming alone i was also a bit concerned; having two or more visitors can often lighten the load by taking off the pressure of constantly entertaining. i know that most of that pressure is mental, but real or perceived it is still stressful.
the first week of his visit turned out to be one of the busiest that i've had in kenya. i had just recently finished the mural project with the students at Gatunyu Secondary, so i had made plans for an assembly of the entire school in order to present the painting and talk to the students about HIV/AIDS. On tuesday before the friday assembly dad and i went to the school to present the mural to the teachers and allow them to ask questions concerning its content. i didn't want 500 students to show up only for the teachers to ask "wasn't HIV invented in a lab in the US?" for the friday presentation Lisa and Brian came to help, along with Brian's counterpart Wanja, a VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) Counselor. we spent about four hours talking to them in two groups; lisa and i covered the mural topics while brian and wanja did a condom demonstration and talked about VCT services. around 1pm, just as we were winding up the clouds broke overhead and unleashed a torrential downpour. many of the kids scrambled for the kitchen to get their lunch, while most of them crowded under the awnings, around lisa and brian and myself, to pelt us with questions about condoms and STDs and sex. dad said afterward that the strangest thing about the day was listening to his son talk about sex for four hours.
dad also managed to procure 30+ soccerballs from a soccer club in virginia, for donation to area teams in the community here. we spent a couple of days during that first week delivering the balls to school teams, which were accepted with rabid fervor, as 300 students fought over 2 or 3 balls, punting or throwing it at each other or in the air at random. the secondary school kids were more reserved, posing for pictures and smiling, presumably content with the thought of using the balls in the future.
i started teaching a keyboarding (typing) class to my coworkers in the YARD office during evenings that week, which dad watched and helped with. although most of the YARD staff use computers almost daily, no one knows how to type more than about ten words per minute. seb, my supervisor, writes out all of his emails longhand and gives them to miriam, the office secretary, to type out before he travels to thika to send them. it's excruciating watching the whole process, so i'm hoping that eventually everyone's typing skills will improve to the point where its not like trying to get a two-toed sloth to type a term paper.
on saturday we held a cultural event in the library - ngemi, an old mzee from across the way, came with two of his old friends to perform some traditional dances with old tins tied to their ankles and filled with rocks. some of the younger guys got up and tried to emulate their movements but ended up just flailing around in a kind of chicken dance. it was loud and entertaining until ngemi fell sick and had to stop.
sunday morning we went to church. this was dad's only real request before he came, so i took him to the only church service i've been to in my village. we were escorted by an older friend of mine, a shopkeeper who is a very active member of the church and who sells me eggs. after the 2-hour praise & worship session, we were asked to introduce ourselves, which i think caught dad a little off-guard. he recovered quickly, though, and managed to pull out the story of shadrach, meshach, and abednego, and cap it off with a moral which i've since forgotten. unfortunately we couldn't stay for the 2-hour sermon, so instead we left for nairobi, escorting susan (my coworker) and milka (a student we sponsor) to camp GLOW on the outskirts of kibera slum before heading back to upper hill campsite.
the next week we went on vacation, traveling to hell's gate national park, kakamega rainforest, and kisumu before flying back to nairobi. hell's gate, one of kenya's smallest game parks, was actually one of my favorite safaris. it is one of two parks in the country that you can walk or bike through, so dad and i rented bikes from fisherman's camp, where we were staying, and set out before sunrise to catch the animals. it turns out we didn't actually need to leave that early as the animals were out all day. while the park didn't have lions or leopards, it was cool enough just biking within a few yards of giraffes, zebras, antelopes, baboons, and hartebeest. at the end of the 10k dirt road there is a ravine that you can climb down into and follow along the riverbed for a couple of kilometers. it winds through high old sandstone riverbanks, with occasional hot springs trickling from the walls. i had brought two raw eggs with me in an attempt to hard-boil them at the site of the springs, but after half an hour of sitting in a shallow steaming pool they still weren't done so i cracked them open and left them where i stood, in a shroud of disappointment. later on, after fording the river several times at the bottom of steep slippery embankments, we came across another hot spring which, according to a maasai guide present, could hard-boil an egg in three minutes.
fisherman's camp, where we were staying, was right on lake naivasha, and a few kilometers down the road from elsamere, the home of the acclaimed artist and author of 'born free,'joy adamson. lake naivasha is home to a healthy population of hippos, and after dark on our first night i was outside of our tent brushing my teeth when i heard a heavy sigh behind me. i turned around to find a mid-size hippo (about as large as a full-size sedan) five yards away munching on the lawn contentendly. luckily there was a foot-tall electric fence separating us!
kakamega was cold and rainy, but the rainforest was gorgeous - deep hues of green exploding from all sides in an orgy of heavy vines and thick moss and dew-dotted spiderwebs and bushy-tailed colobus monkeys. we stayed in a traditional luhya house, a ridiculously tall thatched-roof hut, empty save for the two beds with mosquito netting and a small table with two reed chairs. in the morning we awoke to troupes of monkeys in the foliage overhead - colobus, red-tailed, blue-balled monkeys leaping incredible distances and catching themselves spectacularly on spindly branches that creaked under the weight. unfortunately the forest reserve is under constant threat of encroachment by surrounding farmers, who have historically been the main cause of deforestation. the need for firewood, timber, and cropland have taken their toll on the forest, and have drastically reduced the footprint of the equatorial rainforest. several organizations have sprung up in reaction to this degradation, including KEEP, or Kakamega Environmental Education Program, which is a steward of the reserve and which runs the camp at which dad and i stayed. they have a roster of registered forest guides who lead nature walks and who possess knowledge of indigenous flora and fauna, including traditional medicinal uses for plants. KEEP also runs awareness programs to educate local citizens on the benefits of the rainforest and the ecosystem it shelters; programs such as these seem to have been the most effective in enacting behavior change in the surrounding communities. from what i saw in the few days we were there, KEEP is probably the most organized and well-run community-based organization (CBO) i've found in kenya.
in kisumu we visited my friend carla, a former peace corps volunteer now working for the CDC, who took us to a well-known indian buffet. i love buffets, and this was no exception. unlimited curries and naan and chicken tikka and pasta and rice salads, enough to give me a stomachache.
saturday we flew back to nairobi - the 30-minute flight was a true pleasure after the midget-bus fiasco, and we touched down in time to make the US embassy softball double-header at 11. these games were the championship playoffs for the league, and my friend bob who organizes the team was more frantic than usual. he was ecstatic to learn that my dad used to play in a church softball league, albeit 10 years ago. long story short, we beat the japanese easily and the canadians handily to win the title - it was a stupendous display of athleticism, including a fly ball caught on a 30-yard run by yours truly. to prove i'm still young. we spent the night at bob's house with his family, over a dinner of chinese takeout and pizza. i wanted dad to experience some of the 'other side' of kenya, mainly the side that expats and diplomats and aid workers live on, and i'm pretty sure he got a good taste. we played horse in bob's driveway, surrounded by razor wire and security guards, watched AFN tv, and slept on box spring mattresses. it's a world away from village life.
sunday was goat slaughter day - i had wanted dad to kill his own but when the time came he let the mzee's do the dirty work. most of the day was spent lazing around and watching the group of old men dissect and disembowel the she-goat and make blood sausage out of its intestines. most of my coworkers at YARD showed up for the event, and we had chapati and cabbage and sodas to go along with the nyama choma. roast meat is one thing that is pretty much guaranteed to make any kenyan happy, and the mood was festive as greased hands passed cups of goat stew and platters of meat and sausage, some of which looked suspicious enough to make dad pass on them. once the audience had eaten to their fill, the speeches began (which are requisite at any kenyan gathering of more than three people), first with joseph, then me, then dad, then seb, and others who incorporating gift-giving into their short monologues. gift-giving is another great kenyan tradition, honoring guests in a show of social solidarity. they presented dad with a carving of a lion, a beaded belt, and a dress that dad and i had asked seb's wife to make for leah. dad was probably a bit overwhelmed, but seb had asked me not to say anything to him about the gifts, as they had wanted it to be a surprise.
after the party seb gave me a jerry can of muratina - traditional beer - which we took back to my place along with raphael, waithaka, benson and his friend john. muratina also guarantees happiness, at least for kenyan men, and the five of us downed the five-liter brew as if it were water. dad had a glass to be polite, but enjoyed the conversation much more than the taste of the drink.
dad's final days in the village were spent distributing soccer balls to schools and saying "goodbye" to random people and having to tell them that he probably wouldn't be back to visit again. kenyans get attached pretty quickly.
the final night before he left dad, lisa and i went to carnivore to eat the animals we had seen. the ostrich, as always, was excellent.
now that dad is gone my life has returned to its usual contented slow pace, and looking back on his trip the frustrations and annoyances blend in or slip through the cracks and all that remain are good memories together as father and son.