Letter from Kenya (eight)

In the small mud-floored kitchen, around the kitchen fire bordered by 3 large stones (to put the pots on), the middle son is home with his 8 year-old for a visit. The three adults discuss life, the city, work – or lack-thereof. The 2 grandsons that live on the homestead are seated there as well, with their cousin, quietly listening to the adult conversation. One of the boys sings, but it is barely heard; the others dig their feet into the ground and fidget. But I can only imagine this based on the conversation in a language that I don’t understand that comes billowing out of the barely open door and the small square window. The conversation is accompanied by the suffocating smoke from the kitchen fire, fighting for a place to escape from the confines of the small space.

I steal understandings of bits of words and, of course, proper names like the capital city where the son now lives, with his wife and son in the second largest urban slum on the continent, barely making ends-meet. I stand just a few meters from the wood building, looking up through the rainclouds of the Long Rains season through the pitch-black to a few constellations, barely visible. I look back at the square-shaped room with an orange burning light shining through not only the cracked door and window, but also the open slats that let the rain in this morning while we watched the water heating for our baths.

The conversation is familiar, one that I have had with my own parents in their kitchen during one of my countless visits home. There is a relay back and forth of question-answer, then intermittently the son explains further or the mother continues on a monologue asking and comparing, hoping to glean a bit more about her son’s life that is not so unfamiliar to her, she is from a city near by, not the capital, but she is no stranger to the hustle and bustle, but perhaps she has forgotten all of that. Perhaps the forty-some years that she has spent in the high rolling hills tending to their farm and dairy cows, perhaps this less-busy life has allowed her to forget the hand-to-mouth that she, presumably, once lived.

The oldest of the grandsons pops out and I quickly change my gaze back to the sky again, attempting to make myself invisible. Though the night is so dark with no moonlight and no artificial light for miles, at least to the closest town, being invisible isn’t so difficult. Then I remember the conversation I had with the shopkeeper today when we made the hike to town for supplies that cannot be reaped from their land, power had been out in the town for the last 2 days – no mobile charging, no television, only the police station, with their noisy generator, could be seen with their lights on at night. The grandson dumps some water and with a clang grabs something from under the chicken coop and glides back into the warm kitchen shutting the door just a few centimeters more behind him.

Nicole Rademacher was in Kenya from February until May of 2012 doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).