October 12, 2019
Let’s start off by saying that I may have agreed to getting up at 4am to be on the road by 5, but nobody said it was a good idea. No matter. Two hours after I finally closed my eyes, the alarm went off, I got up, and the day began.
It was an incredibly cool night. Rain intermittently tapped on the tin sheet roof throughout the night. I started the shower heater and climbed back into bed. 10 minutes later I was still awake so decided to stay that way. The warm shower felt wonderful, but scrubbing of 24 hours of airplane cabin was even better. It had stopped raining by the time I was ready to leave my room, so I took advantage of the situation. I grabbed the large roller and my backpack and hauled it out to the front parking lot where Samuel’s car was located. I tucked them both under a small, thatched awning that signaled the bar/restaurant entrance. There was nobody in sight, and the guard at the gate was probably sleeping so I left them to retrieve my smaller hardcore roller and my suit. I finally saw someone on this time. It was the night watchmen who gave me a quick “asabuhi” and went on his way. It was only 10 minutes to five, so I decided to just wait there with my luggage. It had begin to raining, so I stood in the open doorway ( under the thatched roof) and waited until 5. Then I waited until 5:10. Karibu Kenya. At 5:20, Samuel appeared. We loaded the car and headed out into the morning that looked more like night.
There was a thick fog, although Kenyans call it mist. The inside of the windshield was fogging up, too. That was fun. Samuel was very cautious, though, and very patient. Eventually, we got balance between the temperature inside and outside the car to stop the window fog. Samuel said, “This has never happened before,” and I believe him. Maybe I breathe to deeply and give off extra CO2 or maybe I give off to much heat. The next time he has a weirdo in his car, he’ll know what to do.
I waited until the sun came up before even thinking about sleeping. Although the clouds were obscuring it’s view, light eventually appeared revealing the landscape. Early in the morning is definitely the time to travel along the escarpment in the Rift Valley. I’ve never passed that section so quickly! We only dipped below 40km/hr once, and that’s because we had a vehicle coming towards us in our lane. 40km/hr doesn’t sound like much, but when you compare it to the more typical 5-10km/hr, it’s speeding. Once we came down the other side of the mountain, things straightened out (and flattened out) and our speed increased significantly. The clouds were much higher in the sky, there was no evidence left behind by the fog. I was surprised to realize that I actually wasn’t tired at all. I waited for the head bobs to start before I even tried. We drove for 2 hours and 30 minutes, and I slept for the last hour. That brings the grand total to 3. I’m going to pay for that, I just don’t know when. This is not the day to be fighting off sleep.
It took a bit of coaxing to even wake up. I remember hearing Samuel’s voice way off in the distance; it sounded like someone was talking to me through a pillow. It slowly increased in clarity until I realized that he was sitting next to me, driving on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the street, “Oh, yeah, I’m in Kenya,” I thought as I sat up. “Does this look familiar?” Samuel said. “It certainly does,” I replied.
We soon arrived at the Park Villa Hotel. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, and this one you can’t judge by it’s name. It’s one of the best and most consistent spots I’ve ever stayed in this country, but it’s all relative. The day manager, Dapash, came to greet me and took my to my room. “I just want a good shower, that’s it,” I said. They showed me to a new room. Because I’ve been traveling with Andrea and Karen, this time they put me in a single rather than a double. I wish there was cause to be in a double - I miss them all, Katie and Kevin included. I miss them terribly. We got to room #130. The key tag read 129, and it was on the third floor. Of course it does… makes perfect sense. These are the things that make me smile. There’s another oddity in this hotel and it takes a couple days to get used to it. Stairs. It’s not an issue of climbing them, it’s more… I don’t know… navigating? There’s no rhyme or reason to the rise! Every step is a different height, but their depths are close to identical. Going up is not as bad as going down. You know that feeling you get when you’re at the bottom of the stairs but you think there’s another step? You get that with every other step when your descending at the Park Villa. It keeps you on your toes… no pun intended.
I showered quickly, threw on my suit and went back downstairs to meet Samuel. Isaac would be here soon and I still had time for breakfast. Needless to say, this was the first time any of these people have seen me in a suit and tie. “Wow,” was the most common response. It was only about 9am, so it was still cool. The skies were overcast and rain was expected so I stuffed an umbrella in my backpack before coming down. I sat at a table with 6 chairs. Isaac was coming with the entire family. I ordered a chai and eggs. a few minutes later they arrived and I devoured them. Even the toast and sausage. I had no idea how long it was going to be before we ate, so I thought I’d throw in a mandazi. Samuel was agreeable, so i got two. It was one of the best mandazis I’ve ever had. It’s pretty much fried dough like you’d get at the fair, only these were much less oily. They’re also shaped like a small stromboli… and a pretty good size. I’ll sure I’ll have another one, so I’ll take a picture before it disappears.
We continued get refills on our tea until Isaac, Leah, Caleb and Tatiana arrived. Isaac came in from behind and put his hand on my shoulders saying, “I know this guy.” I rose to give him a big hug. “Pole sana, my brother.” (Poh-lay sah-nah; “I’m sorry for your loss”). the kids were close behind but Leah got the next hug, then hugs for the kids. I got another “Wow,” from Isaac, and Leah was a bit more verbose. “You look nice,” she said with a smile. I said the same to both of them, too.
They sat and ordered some food for the kids and chais for themselves. By the time everyone was finished, we had discussed the flight from the US to Nairobi and the drive from Karen to Narok. We didn’t discuss anything about the days events, but that was okay; I wasn’t expecting a play by play. I was there to help in whatever way I could, and that did not require an itinerary.
We drove through Narok town and turned off the main road where there were a dozen vehicles with people gather around the entrance. It was the mortuary. I would soon learn that their mortuary is our funeral home… calling hours, however, are outside.
I saw David and Anthony and gave them both big hugs. I then met the other brothers that I was seeing for the first time. Alfred (the eldest brother) and Lawrence (he’s one year older than Isaac) got similar greetings. “I’m very please to meet you, and I’m terribly sorry for the circumstances.” They agreed, and, none the less, smiled.
Isaac’s mom, Rose, came over to me. Her injured foot was improving, but she was still walking with crutches. She looked beautiful in her black dress and beige sweater. She also wore a simple hat with white silk that circled the base. I sat and watched as the family members were slowly overcome with emotion. The men would all turn away from the crowd so as not to be seen crying. Isaac and David were outwardly having the hardest time. They all were, some of them just hid it better.
I was standing with David while the rest of siblings were talking with a man from the mortuary and a pastor… Pastor Dave. Each of them, as well many women in the crowd had a large white round sticker on the chest. David said this denoted that they were members of the family. As we watched the discussion, a younger man emerged from the group and came towards me. He said nothing as he placed the same large white sticker on my lapel. David just smiled and gave me a hug. “You are one of us,” he said softly.
The casket soon emerged from behind the walls of the mortuary and was placed in the center of what we would consider a parking lot (although there was only one vehicle - the space was occupied by a couple hundred people) on tope of a metal stand. The Pastor then spoke about Reuben, read a verse from the bible and began to pray. I’d give you more details, but it was all in Kiswahili, and although I could catch many words that I recognized, I just couldn’t keep up. It takes much longer for it all to come back to me. What I will tell you is that as soon as he began to speak the sun broke through the clouds and remained out through this service. When he finished, the top third of the casket was opened to reveal Mr. Kasura resting peacefully. A sheet of plexiglass ran the full length of the casket just under the lid. A line quickly formed and the viewing began. This was understandably one of the more difficult parts of the day. The sons shed tears as they walked by first with their mom, retreating to the corner. I was honored to be part of this procession, and I was pleased to see the same face that was smiling at us last February. They don’t do any “work” like they do in the states, and it may very well have been my mind choosing to remember as I saw him last, but I was glad to see him one last time.
The silence of this procession was broken by women who began sobbing and wailing. They were quickly tended to and consoled by others in attendance. Once the last person went by, the lid was closed and Pastor Dave spoke again. The casket was then moved into a van that serve as a hearse. It was time to take him to his home - his final resting place. A light rain fell as everyone got into their cars. We were several miles form his home when the skies opened up again and the sun shined brightly. We had to pull over once, but that was just to make sure that everyone was together. There was no police escort, and the only thing signify that this was a funeral procession were the red ribbons tied to the car antennas and the flashing hazard lights. It mattered little to others cars on the roads that passed cars in the procession then snuck in between others to avoid oncoming traffic. Still, everyone managed to make to the Kasura home in Kisiriri (kee-see-ree-ree, don’t forget to roll your r’s).
We parked the car and got our. Isaac’s family home is on a tiered hill that slope down into an expansive farm. Three large tents were staked at the top with as many resin chars as could fit under them. The clouds had returned and no blue sky was visible in any direction. They were prepared for rain that never came. Part of that preparation was keeping the “program short,” so they cut out some sections. Lunch was not one of the things they cut. When the steady flow of people slowed, lunch was served. A line formed to the left of the entrance to their land, and curved to right passing by a makeshift stand where everyone was served cooked potatoes, spinach, cabbage salad and beef. It was a traditional Kenyan meal. I was ushered away with other family members and at with David in his home. The conversation was light and included many questions about life in America. It began with someone saying how far behind Kenya is. While I agreed that America is ahead of them in some ways, in others, Kenya is way ahead. Kenyan family, communities and tribes are like America in the 1940s.
Everyone looks out for each other - if you break down in your car, every car will stop to see if they can help. I can tell you from experience that it even happens at night.
You didn’t have one mother as a child, you had dozens.
Nobody is afraid of hard work, and trust me, they work hard.
Personal responsibility is only equaled by the lack of entitlement.
Respect for your elders is a cornerstone of their society.
Through stories and concise statements, I told them that the grass they were standing on looked awfully green to me.
We finished our meals and returned to where the tents were. The program was about to begin. Although one of Reubin’s grandsons had a camera and was actively taking pictures, David asked me if I brought my camera. When I said, “Yes,” he smiled wide and said, “You take very good pictures.” I was off to the races. I took my camera and stood off to the side taking shots of the crowd. The hearse arrived and the casket was placed in the middle of the field in front of the tents. It was then I grasped the number of people here. The were shoulder to shoulder all the way to the street above us. The were seated in the grass in the next two tiers below us. Opposite the tent, they were lined up agains the bushes. There had to be over 500 people there. Easy. And remember, every one of them was fed.
In anticipation of the rain, a canopy was placed over the casket. In front of it, between the tents and the casket was a large photo of Reubin, wide-eyed and smiling. There was the equivalent of an MC who introduced everyone before they spoke. Pastor Dave was first. Again, more Kiswahili, as was the same with everyone that followed. Some may have been speaking Ma’a or Kikuyu, but I couldn’t tell. I moved around taking pictures until the MC to the mic again and called for pictures. As I saw them setting up, I moved over to the tent and knelt on the damp grass until everything was in place.
A resin chair was moved from the tents to the casket. It was positioned just to the right of the photograph. Grace rose from her chair and moved to the one next to the casket, then lowered herself onto it. I didn’t know what to expect, and shouldn’t have been surprised.
Kenyans love to take pictures of everything. They love documenting their experiences, and this was no exception. The MC then called for groups to join her and have their picture taken. This would be the longest portion of the program. I was able to identify many of the groups because I knew them, but again, Kiswahili is not an easy language. I think this was the order:
- Reubin’s Sons
- Reubin’s Sons & Daughters
- Reubin’s Sons & Daughters in Law
- Reubin’s brothers
- Reubin’s brothers & sister
- Reubin’s brothers & Sisters in Law
- Reubin’s grandsons
- Reubin’s granddaughters
- Reubins’ great grandsons and great granddaughters
and the list went on and on. Because I took the pictures, I know that there were 27. I was called somewhere in the middle. Although Rose speaks only a few words of english, and Kikuyu or Ma’a were her preferred languages, I knew a thrifty woman when I saw one. I knelt beside her for our photo, and when it was finished, I said, “Maji” (mah-jee) “Water.” She smiled and nodded. I passed the info onto David who brought her a bottle. She drank most of it before the photos continued and were eventually concluded. It had to be exhausting.
She returned to her seat, and the speeches began. I almost forgot to tell you that the skies opened once again, and stayed that way for the remainder of the day. I’ve got a sunburned nose to prove it. They were so confident that they removed the tarp that provided cover for the casket. Their confidence in their weather forecast meant that everything that was on the cutting room floor was returned to the program. Anyway, back to the speeches.
Friends, relatives, church groups etc all came up and spoke. I continued to take pictures and walk around to get different perspectives on the crowd. I was standing next to 2 large speakers when I got a text from Isaac. “You must be tired, please come sit down.” Isaac was under the 3 adjacent tents in chairs with the rest of the immediate family. I said, “I’m fine, Isaac. I prefer to stand.” He was adamant, and got Leah involved. “Leah wants you to come sit next to her.” Leah makes me tangawizi chai (ginger tea), roasted potatoes and stew. If she wants me to sit next to her, I’m going to sit next to her. She smiled as I tried to find space for my legs. No luck. Then, as Pastor Dave was speaking, I finally heard something I definitely recognized. “… America…” uh-oh. That was followed up with another familiar name, “Mister Adams.” (Mees-tah ah-dahms). Don’t ask me why they call me Adams. It’s always been that way. I had no prepared words - that’s dangerous. I get very chatty when I’m nervous, and this scenario definitely fit the bill. As luck would have it, while cleaning out my photos on my iPhone while flying from Amsterdam to Kenya, I came across a sort of poem that I heard at a funeral. It was beautiful, and now I had to find it again. Finally, somebody’s going to speak English! That someone was me. The MC translated as I read. Andrea would have been proud of me. I made to the last 2 lines before I had to stop. In true Kenyan fashion, I turned away from the crowd when my voice cracked. The MC whispered, “Be strong.” Two things immediately popped into my head. 1. This guy doesn’t know what he’s dealing with. And 2., I bet he’s never seen “P.S., I Love You.” You wanna see tears mister… sorry, got a little carried away there. I finished with some off the cuff remarks before returning to my kneeling position in the grass.
A small group was then introduced and they sung for a bit. Then Pastor Dave was on again. Someone out of sight was reading the bible and he was making exclamations after each verse and spoke briefly at the end of each reading. When he concluded, it was time to take Reubin to the sight where is to be inturred.
The lot, dug by hand was on the 2nd their below. A large pile of dirt resided next to the hole. Straps were fastened to poles waiting for the casket which was carried down by Reubin’s sons. Pastor Dave spoke briefly, and the casket was gently lowered. The straps and poles were removed while Pastor Dave spoke. Reubin’s brothers then tossed a fistful of dirt onto the casket, followed by his sons. Again, additional groups were called up to do the same. I remained just above the dirt pile as I uncomfortably took photographs. I kept telling myself that this is what they needed my to do. So I did.
After the last group was called, Pastor Dave spoke again. When he stopped, some people moved in closer. The were holding shovels and hoes. In a matter of minutes, they moved all the dirt into the hole and filled it 18” above the opening. During that entire time, 2 man sung songs. There was a constant exchange of shovels. When one person began to slow down, he hand it off to the next guy. It was community effort. Pastor Dave then called on the Reubin’s siblings and sons to bring beautiful red and white rose wreaths and place them atop the mound. With that, the ceremony ended. It would take another hour before everyone left.
It began to get dark and the temperature was dropping so we moved inside. The committee of men that organized the ceremony met inside with the sons and me. Again, all kiswahili in a dimly lit room. I counted 3 head bobs before I started squirming in my seat. They didn’t finish until 10:30, but it felt like 2am. Isaac finally rounded up the kids and Leah and brought me back to the hotel. Where I plopped in my bed and fell fast asleep. Prior to his departure, Isaac planned on calling at 8 and sending a car to pick me up at 11. We’ll see what time he calls.
Oh, PS. I won’t be able to post any pictures until I get my Safaricom modem fixed. Sorry about that. I’ll be taking care of that tomorrow after the shops open. Ta ta for now.