Two Ruths arrive in Kitale a few days before Christmas after an eight hour matatu ride through the beautiful landscape of Western Kenya. The family house’s compound has a huge garden, chicken, cows, dogs – and lots of children.
As soon as we enter, three little girls charge towards us, overjoyed that their mum/aunt has arrived and brought her curious “cousin” along. Over the next days, the little ones will follow me around the house wherever I go. I can barely shake them to go to the loo.
That night, I do my clumsy best to help making dinner. We are having beef stew, sukuma wiki (collard greens), and ugali, a thick polenta-like porridge made from maize meal, Kenya’s staple food. Over the next few days, I will be having what feels like two kilos of ugali a day.
We are served sour milk, which tastes like a sour version of the Turkish ayran. The regular milk here is phenomenal, fresh from the cow, thick and sweet. Just when we start to eat, the lights go out: blackout. Nobody is disturbed by that, Ruth just turns on her mobile torch app and we continue eating.
This is a common occurrence in rural Kenya: At least once a day, the water or the electricity are gone for several hours, sometimes both. We make it work, simply enough, by heating water pumped from a borehole on the fireplace to take a shower from a bucket. When there is a blackout in the evening, well, people just go to sleep.
We wake up refreshed and have breakfast with sweet milk tea, French toast, and uji, a thin kind of porridge, made from millet, water, milk and sugar. As I go to my room after breakfast, a caravan of little girls is following me (as always). They look at me with those big eyes. After a while, the oldest one shyly says: “Avril wants to ask you for the sweets.”
The night before, they had seen a little bag of sugared baobab tree seeds (mabuyu) in my room. I had promised them they could have it in the morning. Apparently, it was the first thing Ruth’s daughter Avril said to her when she woke up. I let them have it and watch them, amused to see their little tongues turn red from the food colouring.
That day, we spend pampering ourselves. We go to Kitale Club to have a swim, some fish and ugali and a nice schwitz in the sauna. Then we take some boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) to go to a salon. While we wait for our turn to get a pedicure, the girls are having fun doing my hair. I have never been to an African hairdresser before, and all of a sudden, I have three, all at the same time! Lucky me!
The following day, Ruth shows me how they make rice and ugali on the fireplace in the outside kitchen. Afterwards, Kip, one of the boys, takes me for a tour of the compound, explaining all about the animals they keep and the vegetables they plant: spinach, onions, maize, beans, avocados, oranges, bananas… He very patiently teaches me some Swahili words, like ndizi (banana), mti (tree), ng’ombe (cow), ndovu (elephant), kintunguu (onion) or ukuta (wall). He must be a great teacher, just by the fact that I memorized all those words.
When we go to town, Ruth’s husband Evanvil lets his four year old sit on his lap in the drivers seat and steer the car. “She knows exactly what she’s doing!” That’s a proud dad if I’ve ever seen one.
After having three little girls all over my hair the other day, it’s my turn return the favour by undoing Avril’s braids. It takes me a whole Disney movie and a half to finish. Let me tell you, African hair really is a handful. I admire anyone who manages to maintain it!
I also learn how to mop Kenyan style, with a rug on the floor, using two waters. Of course, the little bit that I do contribute to the house work is rather symbolic. The women won’t let me help with the heavy stuff, because I am the guest. I am very well taken care of, and fed like I am being battened for an African wedding. According to leading experts in the field, I already have the necessary African legs and African booty, which I take as a great compliment.
One night, we go out dancing. I just love shakin’ it, and I can’t really do that in a Berlin Club. At least not without earning some rather bewildered looks from bearded hipsters and girls with pierced septums and gym bags with ironic phrases printed on them.
“You are really on your way to becoming an African woman. No European dances like that!”, I am told. But then, i guess the expectations are not very high when it comes to Europeans’ dancing.
So now that I have mastered the art of mopping, handling hair, cooking (or rather chopping some tomatoes while other women cook), booty-shaking and eating like there’s no tomorrow, I can officially say that I have been properly Kenyanized.