letters from nairobi

Watoto in the Rift Valley
December 22, 2011, 14:17
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Yesterday, we drove through the Rift Valley from morning until night.

There were many unforgettable moments – watching a bowl of water spin in opposite directions on either side of the equatorial line, visiting a women’s market where mothers held babies in slings on their backs while they rummaged through mountains of clothing, seeing the sprawling expanse of tea fields for the first time – but one stands out against all the rest: the faces of the children.

A caravan of us turned off of the highway several times to visit a series of wells and springs where N. and his colleagues are considering development projects. The potholed gravel would give way to golden dust as we disappeared down winding roads, stalks of maize brushing against the windows. We left the world behind. And that’s when the children would appear.

Walking with bowed heads through muddy grass, standing in the shadows of doorways, perched on rocks, watching sheep and goats graze in the sunlight – suddenly, they would see our massive car lurching down the broken road, and look up. Their dark eyes lit up and toothy smiles spread across beaming faces.

Mzungu! Hellohowareyou?? Hellomuzunguhowareyou??” They shouted, frantically waving. “How are you how are you?!”

“Fine, how are you?” One of us would respond, waving. “Jambo! Hello!”

Grins spread from cheek to cheek, and plodding steps became instantly animated. As we bumped and bounced our way past, the children would start following us, slinking out from forests of maize and appearing on the tops of dusty hills. Our vehicle became a rural Pied Piper, choruses of “hellohowareyou”s heralding our arrival.

When we stopped at our destination and climbed out of the car, the children would suddenly grow shy, huddling together a safe distance away.

“Jambo! How are you?” One of us would greet them. No response, save for a hesitant smile.

As soon as our backs were turned, as we began walking towards the one of the wells, the children would cluster together and follow our tentative footsteps with their confident ones. When we arrived at the water source, they stood in clusters, watching us and whispering.


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