“My Oh My!”

“Just Connect.”
–E.M. Forester, Howard’s End

I have that quote posted on my bulletin board at school (yeah, I still have the old fashioned kind.) I’ve always believed in those two words, but now they may become my motto. My time traveling has been all about the connections I’ve made at home leading to connections abroad and then to connections I’ve made with strangers who want to share their love of home, of place, of belonging to a certain piece of land and a certain group of people at a certain time.

Years ago I took a course at the University of Southern Maine and learned that the word nostalgia does not mean that sentimental longing we all feel now and again for the good old days or the way things used to be. Nostalgia is deeper than that. The first recorded use of the word (at least that’s what my professor told me) was in the Odyssey. The root of the word, confirmed by the only friend I have who actually knows ancient Greek (and everything else)—Jennifer Clarke—told me it is from the Greek word nostos which means “return home” and algos, for “pain.” It is a literal ache, a sickness we feel in the pit of our belly to want to go home again. It is the way Odysseus and his crew felt after being gone 20 long years from Athens. It is the way I imagine sometimes my students and their families have felt. It is that deep, deep longing to be in the culture we understand, where the codes are clear and known. It is probably what made me cry this morning when the showerhead fell off the pipe I was standing under at my hotel. As I stood there watching a drip of water cascade (sort of) down a wall and into an Ethiopian drain, tears ran down my cheeks. I wanted to be home where I understand and everything is understood and mostly showerheads stay where they belong. (Funny side note: this same problem with a showerhead happened to me in Zambia, but I didn’t cry then. I was in my niece and nephew’s shower and was more worried they would think I broke their bathroom, which I DID NOT, JASON!)

Nostalgia is a piece of that deep love we all have for our homes. Despite the pain and conflict it sometimes brought, our home is our home. A part of respecting ourselves is respecting where we are from and how our home has shaped us. I have found people in every part of Africa I have been who want to know about my home and want to show me all the nooks and crannies of their own. Below are some of the people and places I’ve met during my month in Kenya and “my, oh my,” to quote my friend Abel, who is a fabulous Salsa dancer and can mimic the popular Kenyan phrase heard throughout the country spot on, it has been good to see it all.

These are photos from when I first arrived in Nairobi. At my friend Andrea’s Holiday Party this year, I met her friends Dave and Linda Berkey who referred me to a father-son tour guide duo who share a combined wisdom and love of Kenya’s natural and man made history. Tour guides in Kenya are put through a rigorous testing system and Joseph has his silver medal while Dennis already has his bronze. Together the two whisked me through the big city and we saw the National Park in Nairobi, the home of Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen of Out of Africa fame, Kazuri, a business started by a British woman to give local women skill in jewelry and pottery making, and a giraffe sanctuary. If ever you come to Kenya, let me know because you will want these two to show you around. I only regret I couldn’t do a naturalist guided tour with them because every time a bird flew by or made a sound Joseph would whip around and tell me the genus, species and common name. He did the same with every piece of vegetation he saw as well.

The photos below are from early in my time in Bungoma, when Mama and Mzee took me to see the five-star hotel their son Senator Moses Wetang’ula, the Senate Minority Leader in Parliament, is building to encourage tourism in the area. Without the assistance of any machinery, the crew of 150 local skilled and unskilled workers is hauling and cutting rock among natural boulders to build at least 50 cottages where people will come to relax. The grounds will host a swimming pool and golf course along with dining facilities. There are also a few shots from some of the gatherings where I was staying with the Wetang’ula family.

Here are photos from Kisumu, a lovely town on the shores of Lake Victoria where I met Joshua and his kids. They just took me off for on a magical tour to see downtown Kisumu and Kit Mikayi, this mystical rock formation where spiritual folk pray, meditate and sing. It was Good Friday the day we visited, but I do not think that is why the place felt so holy. There was something in the rocks as ancient as time itself. While climbing through the labyrinth of rocks and caves, breathtaking views and vistas emerged. We would stumble upon pilgrims praying and voices of women singing which seem to come from the rocks itself.

Below are shots from my three day excursion to Kakamega. I had a brief meeting with Dorothy Selebwa, Project Director of the Kakamega Orphans Care Centre because Peter’s buddy and former RAaW member Mitch Newlin hooked me up with her. Mitch spent six months last year working at the orphanage and volunteered there twice when he was a student at Waynflete. Mitch was part of Empty Bowls, an Activity for Upper School students who helped raise money for the orphanage. Mitch is coming back to the orphanage in July and Dorothy couldn’t be happier. She says he is connected to the place. I also had a wonderful day with my friend Rosemary the librarian I wrote about in my last blog. She and some of her colleagues walked with me to the Crying Stone, a rock formation which looks like it’s crying (at least during the month of August). Oral tradition tells the story of a local chief who treated his wife poorly and the rocks cry for her. The next day I took a marvelous trip to the Kakamega Forest. I only wish I had gotten there early in the day to see the many species of birds that live there.

And finally, my last weekend with Abel Kachu, Justo, Diety and many other friends in Nairobi was the perfect way to end my time in Kenya. After a long month working in rural western Kenya it was just glorious having time to explore a bit of the big city and go dancing Saturday night at Abel’s local bar. Abel works for Senator Moses Wetang’ula and does important research. And my oh my, he is a fabulous salsa dancer.


5 thoughts on ““My Oh My!”

  1. Roy says:

    Loved all your skilled and crafted words… Almost like I was there too. Sounds like the basis of your next book… A Pa Dutch girl from Egypt packs her bags and returns with wisdom beyond belief.

    Glad you’re home safe, enlightened and wiser.



  2. Beverly Freeman says:

    I just read this entry…after talking to you on the phone!! I am so glad you’re home and can’t wait to see you!! This was a beautiful entry an d a nice summing up. Nostalgia and home…powerful words…memorable is another one! Happy Birthday, world traveler!

  3. Edie Mannion says:

    It may not be your birthday in your time zone, but it is in mine, so hope you are having a special day on top of your already special trip. I look forward to digesting all that you’ve written!

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