I arrived in Kenya to a warm welcome by the sisters who live in Chanzo. This house will probably one day be the provincial house and sits next to Depaul where the Vincentian compound is located. I was able to visit the various works of the sisters at Chanzo and also at the missions in Thigio, Kiio, and Kitale. It was a blessing to be able to begin with a sense of the work we are doing in the mission here.
I began the long journey from Nairobi to Chepynal just over a week ago. The sisters usually do the drive in two parts: from Nairobi to Kitale which is about 5 hours and then from Kitale to Chepnal which is 3 hours “up the mountains” on rough dirt roads. The drive goes through the rift valley, forest and fields, villages and towns to Kitale, a larger urban area. The ride from Kitale to Chepynal is not for the weak of heart, you can look down the mountain from the dirt road, there is little room for any errors in driving and the views are absolutely spectacular.
Trying to express what I am experiencing here is a little like trying to drink from a fire hose, I can only write about a small stream in the flood of new experiences. I have learned that Chepynal is located in the region of West Pokot and that the people are from the Pokot tribe. The people are known as pastrolist, grazing mostly cows, as well as a few goats and sheep. Many people also have small shambas, or farms, where they grow maize, which is the staple of the diet. The Pokot have been isolated from many of the changes of the world because of the remoteness of the areas they live. Therefore traditional practices continue (polygamy, rites of passage- in which marriages of girls are arranged in exchange for cows). The culture is in a process of change as the need for education becomes greater for the people.
The Pokot are a good humored and generous people. I was able to go home visiting with Sr. Mary (a social worker from the U.S.) and Sr. Esther (just missioned from seminary 2 months ago), to visit 2 families with children who needed surgery. Gladys was the first Mama we visited. Her daughter had been burned a number of years ago disfiguring the hand. The family and neighbor children gathered to peek into the door to see what was happening. Gladys told us the woman’s group she belonged to gathered to raise money and helped her to build her home. Although she was the first wife of the assistant chief, he neglected to care for her and the children as he should. At the end of our visit, she brought a calabash, for storing milk. The women decorate and often sell them to others. She only had one finished and there where 3 of us so she promised to bring 2 more to us once she finished them. And sure enough, a week later she showed up at our door with 2 more calabashes, the promised gifts of thanks.
The second family lived at the top of a mountain. It was about a 20 minute walk from the road... all up hill. The women were sitting under a tree just enjoying the beautiful day. The child needing surgery was a 2 year old who had fallen into a fire while playing. After filling out all the paper work Celina invited us into her home. It was a traditional round home with a straw roof and dirt floor. We sat on the only 2 things in the room, the wooden beds. Celina brought us chai tea, the traditional drink of welcome. And before leaving presented us each with an egg and a small bag of millet, which is used in a porridge. She then walked with us down the mountain. Sr. Esther told me this was the true African way, to walk with your guest as they leave.