Welcomed in Kiambu

Stepping off the plane into the Nairobi Airport seemed surreal. It is a place so far away yet after one trip here in the past it seem so familiar. I remember the unknowns surrounding our last trip here. Before I came as a visit and now I am returning as a welcomed guest. Rather than trying to figure out how to get a ride to a hotel, I scanned the signs being held up in the arrivals area until I saw "Welcome Andy Johnson" being held by the driver who had come for me. Helping to carry my bags, he led me to a gentleman by the name of David Kamatu who was to be my host. David is the father to a good friend who I made last time I was in Nairobi. Having met up with Benny in Oxford, he had called his parents to ask if they would host me. I welcomed the opportunity to visit a Kenyan home and village. During our drive back to their home I learned that they live about thirty kilometers outside of Nairobi in a town called Kiambu. We stopped along the way so that I could buy a cell phone and Safaricom sim card. I now have a Kenyan phone number, which is the only way to go when traveling around here. It is easy to top up the phone with new minutes and since Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania all work together, the same number can be used across East Africa.

As we drove into the village I saw glimpses of Kenyan life beginning to emerge. The Kamatus welcomed me into their home and as seems customary, we immediately sat down for coffee. Both hot water and hot milk are made available when having coffee or tea. Mixing the two with instant coffee and a little cocoa, I prepared the familiar cup that I will enjoy many more times over the next month. I was surprised to find later that they had taken my shoes and shined them for me. As they showed around and to the room that they had prepared for me, I felt most welcomed. As they say in Swahili "Keribu sana", you are very welcome!

The highlight of the day was walking around the village with David among shy but inquisitive children, curious adults, and local commerce. He introduced me to his many relatives in the area, explaining that his father had many children from two wives and had given one half of his land to the children of each wife. Living among their inheritance, they have continued to lead an agrarian lifestyle, growing various types of bananas, coffee, and maize (corn), among other produce. I gained a new perspective on rural life from David's description of what it was like to live there. He explained local ecological problems including Kenya's ongoing drought that has dried up local rivers. I learned a little about how people perceived me as a "mzungu" or white man. He said that he told all of them that I was a student, so that they would not think I was there to make money off of them, and that I was American so as to disassociate with me colonialists. These are thoughts that never would have occurred to me behind their smiling faces but it helped me to realize that there is likely more to be sensitive to than I'll ever realize.

Another highlight of my stay in Kiambu was sharing dinner with David's family and in particular visiting with Melissa, their little beautiful little granddaughter. Sharing photos and family stories brought us together. I felt most welcomed and enjoyed spending time with the Kamatus in Kiambu. I will be visiting them again when I return to Kenya and very much looking forward to it!