Odiero is the Luo word for Mzungu (white person) so now that I’m among the Luo tribe here in Oyugis, I answer to either Odiero or Mzungu. I try to teach them my name but they have way more fun saying Mzungu so I let it slide. Mostly all the Kiswahili that I learned in Nairobi hasn’t meant anything here because everyone speaks Luo. It’s so crazy to think about how fast time is flying by. I have less than a month left in Kenya now and I already feel like it’s going to be so hard to leave this place. I’ve been in Oyugis for a while now, working with both the Orande and Baraka women’s groups on their community yoghurt kitchens.
I was staying at a small “hotel” for a couple of weeks but now I’m living in the community with one of the yoghurt mamas and her family. It’s been nice living the rural life, mainly because I feel closer to the community and get to play with the kids. I definitely miss taking showers though. The “roads” are dusty red sand so I’ve accepted that my feet will remain dirty until Canada. My host family has 5 children. They have 3 kids plus 2 of what they call “African children”, which means they have orphans who have more often than not lost their parents to HIV/AIDS.
Kenyan hospitality has of course found me in Oyugis. Everyone here has welcomed me into their homes and asked me to meet their families. I spend a lot of my time just visiting people in their homes. I can’t go into anyone’s home without accepting to have something, like tea or food. The kids are always happy to see me. They’re not used to seeing mzungus like the children in the city. I could literally entertain a child by sitting down and doing absolutely nothing, they would be happy to simply look or touch my skin. They really like touching my hair too. I could walk down the street and feel a woman come up behind me just to stroke my hair. It’s hard to get used to being such an attraction; everyone always doing a double take when they see you or starring but being a “visitor”, as they call me, has its perks for sure. Part of Kenyan culture is to make sure the visitor has a good time in their country so people go out of their way to take care of you and make sure you’re okay. That’s the good part – the tiring part is having so many people ask you for money or for you to buy them something. The tough part is choosing when to give and how to give. Food is cheap here. It would be easy to buy children sweets like a lollypop for about a penny or a soda for 30cents. What you don’t want to do is perpetuate the stereotype that all whites are rich and give handouts/donations like money, clothes, school supplies or sweets. I try to do something special, like if the kids show me they did well on a school exam, I’ll treat them to some sweets, so that I’m rewarding them for good performance instead of just giving them sweets without a reason. It’s important that the people get out of the habit of asking whites for things, however, it’s also important to recognize and understand the history of colonization and how this habit came to be.
The most popular conversations I have around here are “Where are you from? Oh Canada, I know Canada, it’s a good state! You support me to come to that country of yours” or “How old are you? Seventeen? Oh you’re 24, great. Are you are ready to be married in Kenya? I wish to be marry to you then you take me to that country!” or “Can I have your number? I have a son for you”. You learn to have a laid-back attitude and not get worked up about this, otherwise, this small talk would drive you crazy. Luckily, I’ve made some good friends here and we can talk about things that don’t include marrying me off.
When I first came to Oyugis, I found the yoghurt kitchen project at a stand-still. Most of their equipment has broken down on them, like the most important part of the kitchen: their fridges. The women’s group has been struggling to make and sell yoghurt due to a number of challenges such as their facilities, a recent drought that caused milk prices to escalate, the inability to access probiotic culture, etc. So in order to get the business back on track, we have been marketing (mostly going to the secondary schools, which are boarding schools that offer feeding programs and canteens that can sell our yoghurt) as well as doing some yoghurt training. The mamas have trained another women’s group from Maragoli on how to make the yoghurt and they charge a training fee, which will help the group save up to buy some new fridges. For now, we can only produce the amount of yoghurt that we can sell that same day because of the fridge. I’m hoping to be able to take the mamas and a lab technician from the local hospital to Maragoli so that they can be trained on how to make the probiotic culture, which will not only produce a higher quality product, it has additional health benefits (especially for people living with HIV/AIDS) compared to the regular yoghurt that they have been making. Once upon a time, the kitchen was quite successful and the plan is to restore that success. Not only was it providing a source of income to the mamas, their families and their community was benefiting from the health benefits. There are several malnourished children in this area as well as people who are positive. Furthermore, thanks to the yoghurt project, the women’s group is able to support approximately 35 orphans in the community.
When I’m not working with the yoghurt mamas, I’ve been taking a few weekends to do some travelling. I went to Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya. I had an amazing time in a supermarket buying sandwich meat and cheese. It was nice to be in the city for the day but I prefer the much quieter and traffic free Oyugis. I did enjoy the sights though, Kenya is such a beautiful country. I went to Lake Victoria and could see the hills of Uganda on the other side of the lake. I also stood right on the equator line! Last weekend, I went to the famous maasai mara on safari! It was crazy! Our safari van literally drove beside the lion king and he roared at us. Simba was a highlight but we also saw a cheetah, zebra, elephants, giraffe, hippos, antelope, buffalo, wildebeest, ostrich, monkeys, hyena, pumba (so pretty much the whole cast). I highly recommend adding an African safari to your bucket list, you’ll never go to a zoo again.
One day I promised to show the kids a movie on my laptop, thinking they would be really excited to do something they very rarely have the opportunity to do. We sat down all together crowded around my little screen. We didn’t even make it through the trailer before I lost their attention – and I loved it! After maybe 2 minutes, Jack (who is 10, and in grade 1) asks me very sweetly “we play football?” – I was like “heck yeah, let’s play football, I don’t want to watch a movie”. We had a great time playing and I was impressed that they would rather be active and play outside instead of watch a movie; something we Canadians could learn from. They were very happy to be playing with a mzungu! They get all excited to not only see a girl playing football, but a white girl, playing barefooted and getting dirty is just craziness. We played for about an hour, the kids have a pretty short window of opportunity for playing. They are in school from around 6:30am to 5pm and on weekends, they have half-days so that they can go to church in the morning. They also have chores to do around the house, like fetching water or firewood, collecting vegetables, groundnuts, or beans from their shamba (garden), then the older kids help the younger ones bathe before dinner.
In general, the people here have really been good to me. One of the mama’s daughters had a baby about a month ago and they named her Ellissa Marie. I was honored. I met her the other day and she’s awesome! They asked me for my last name (Riel) but then they thought that that name sounded weird so they just took my middle name instead. I laughed. I'm going to try to post a picture of me, baby Ellissa, her mama, and her grandma. The mamas have welcomed me like family and have made my experience here all the more enriching. I only hope that I will be able to leave this place having offered half of what they have given me.