A journey ‘up-country’

hospitality: /hɒspɪˈtalɪti/; noun; the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

Kenya is a varied land with 44 beautifully unique tribes and 44 beautifully unique cultures representing each of those tribes. These 44 tribes each have their own customs, traditions, languages, ceremonies, foods, fabrics and culture. Each of them is beautiful in their own unique way. But one thing spans each of these tribes: hospitality! Kenya is a land of lovely people who know the importance of showing hospitality to all they welcome.

A friend from our church, William, is of the Kalenjin tribe, the fourth largest in Kenya. The day after our kids finished school for Christmas break, our family, along with our niece, Anna, had the wonderful opportunity of driving ‘up-country’ to the small town of Sugoi, just outside of Eldoret. We stayed with William and his family for 2 nights and 3 days, where we were we shown incredibly gracious hospitality! Here are some photos and stories of our time with our friend and his family.

Upon arrival at 3:00pm, after our 8+ hour hot and dusty drive from Nairobi, we were ushered quickly into William’s home where they had a delicious, hot Kenyan lunch ready and waiting for us. There were cold water, cold cokes and cold juice ready to quench our thirst…most Kenyans drink their beverages at room temperature, so this was very thoughtful of them to have it cold for us.

Because formal welcomes are such an important part of their hospitality and culture, after lunch we returned outside so they could formally welcome us to the home. We all lined up and were introduced to each of William’s extended family: his mom, brother, sisters, in-laws and nephews. They presented each of us with a beaded bracelet, with our names, the US flag and the Kenyan flag designed into them. In addition, each of us girls received a beautifully beaded tribal necklace. The ladies explained that mine was for a faithful, married woman, while each of the girls’ necklaces were for unmarried young women to wear. They presented Dan with a brightly colored men’s beaded tribal headpiece, as well.

In the afternoon, Abraham hung out with the young boys playing football, card games and teaching them how to use his Kendama, a toy they were unfamiliar with. All the kids also played some card games that Sarah brought along, and Jon Michael spent some time with one of William’s college aged nephews. The home is situated not far from a small river, so William took us on an afternoon country stroll to river and the beautiful grassy knoll.

In the evening, we girls enjoyed cooking with the ladies. They were very gracious and patient to let us try our hand at rolling and cooking chapati, a Kenyan flat bread much like a thick tortilla. We had lots of fun trying to make them as round as the Kenyan ladies so effortlessly did…at first ours looked more like the shapes of the continents! Cooking them on the very hot jiko had its challenges as well…we burned our fingers more than once in the process. Between our turns at rolling and cooking the chapatis, we enjoyed sitting just outside the kitchen in the cool evening air sipping some delicious Kenyan chai, talking and laughing in Swahili with the ladies. In this up-country setting, the need for Swahili becomes more important than in the city of Nairobi where English is more readily spoken.

On Saturday morning, Dan, Lydia and I enjoyed a nice run in the Great Rift Valley, the running capital of the world. So many Olympic athletes have run here as they trained for their big events. Our friend, William, had himself trained here in years past in preparation for winning the 800-meter Olympic Gold Medal in Barcelona. While on our simple run, a few marathoners passed us by, and even with their swift pace, encouraged us on our run. Who knows, maybe one of those who ran passed us will go on to win the Gold in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Just after lunch, we visited a nearby coffee farm where we got a wonderful tour. We enjoyed a stroll through the coffee fields in the hot afternoon sun. Each bright red coffee pod has 2 yellow coffee beans inside, nested together much like a peanut. They showed us how they use an old-style extracting machine to expel the coffee beans from their casings. After that, they hand pick through the beans to remove any casings still left in the pile. Walking through the fields of coffee plants, we met some ladies who were picking coffee and they graciously allowed us to ask questions and take some photos of them doing their work. We saw how they spread the coffee out in the sun to dry before sending it off for roasting, and the storehouse where the coffee that is dried is packed into bags ready to go to the market.

We returned home that afternoon for a celebration for William’s nephew, Leon, who had just graduated from University. The whole family gathered with many neighbours and church friends for the traditional celebration and meal together. Leon, along with two friends, came into the compound first, with shiny red, blue and silver tassels hanging around their necks. Many friends and family followed behind them singing as they walked. We joined the procession, trying to sing along in Kalenjin, a language we do not know. Once in the compound, the three young men were seated in chairs together. The elder men and women sat in chairs directly across from them, while the rest of us sat on the ground nearby. A celebration ensued with the grandmother giving Leon a gift, a calf, for his hard work at University. Numerous people stood and spoke to Leon, commending him for his hard work.

While the celebration was meant for Leon, in addition, they showed us amazing hospitality as they had yet another welcoming ceremony for our family, this time with friends and church members in attendance. They presented us with more gifts, this time in song and dance fashion. We all stood in a circle, and while everyone sang, different members of William’s family danced over to us, bringing various gifts: Kenyan Kitenge cloth wrapped around the girls’ shoulders, a traditional gourd decorated with beads and a handle used for carrying buttermilk presented to each of us, beaded coin purses and a necklace for the girls, beaded tribal headpieces for the girls, beaded keychains for the boys. As they danced to us with the gifts, we then stepped into the circle with them to dance for a few steps as we received the gifts. It was overwhelming all the gifts they presented to us, their guests, with such hospitality and generosity at every turn!

On Sunday morning we had a great time attending the Africa Inland Church Sugoi Township. They had just finished a week-long Vacation Bible School with their kids and each age group eagerly presented Scriptures they had memorized, along with some songs. We were again warmly welcomed, this time by the church, and given the opportunity to stand and greet the congregation gathered under the trees, a common tradition in Kenyan churches. They were so happy to have us join them for their Sunday service. After church, we walked back to William’s home for lunch and our farewells. Our time in Sugoi had been such a joy, getting to know William’s family, meeting neighbors, friends, and fellow church members, relaxing in the quietness of this beautiful, up-country haven.

After finishing our last delightful Kenyan meal together, the family, friends and church members present, all gathered with us in William’s living room for the farewells. Just as formally welcoming guests is an important part of their hospitality and culture, so is a formal farewell. William took time to stand and thank us for coming, a friend gave a short message, others stood and thanked us as well. Then Dan knew it was time for him to give his ‘vote of thanks’, standing and formally thanking the family for all the hospitality shown to us over the 3-day visit. We ended with prayer together before we climbed into our white Land Cruiser for the long afternoon/evening drive back to Nairobi.

As we were driving home, Sarah remarked how nice it is to have lived in Kenya long enough to be more in tune with the culture in these cross-cultural settings. We’ve learned a lot in our 4 ½ years of living here. As we look back on when we first arrived, we can now see that we were unaware of many, maybe even most, cultural cues, and we often responded inappropriately. We certainly still miss cues even after 4 1/2 years, and this being our first time with the Kalenjin tribe, I’m sure we missed some there as well. But overall we are so much more in tune with the subtle cultural cues presented to us, and we are more comfortable in these cross-cultural settings with every passing year. And with every passing year, Kenya, with its beautifully varied landscape and tribes, becomes more and more like home.