October 13, 2019
This is what I read before my comments yesterday. It was more apropos than I could have imagined.
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. - Henry Scott Holland.
The day started like any other. I was up entirely too late; woke up at 5am and fell back to sleep, finally waking at 9:30. I’m not close to being caught up on sleep, and I’ve given up trying. I sleep when I sleep and I wake when I wake.
I failed to mention a couple important notes about last night. After the meeting, we had dinner. Yup, 10:30pm. Cabbage salad, goat stew and chipati… a lot of chipati! While it is customary to eat family style, I think the number of people being fed made it difficult, so we've been served individual portions with each meal. I haven't felt like a “visitor” for years, and they don’t treat me as such, however, I have eaten more food on this trip than ever before. My plate is always overflowing, and when i return the empty plate to the table, it looks like it’s been licked clean. There's no way that I'm losing any weight on this trip.
I got home at 11:15pm, and blogged until about 3:00am. I really don’t want to get behind because so much is happening. I’m hoping that tomorrow will be more relaxed as we have some meetings scheduled in addition to fixing my modem problems and addressing the change in currency. My blog for Monday might be, “I woke up. I drove around. I went to sleep,” but don’t count on it.
Isaac came in to pick me up as I was finishing breakfast at 10. The kids and Leah were waiting in the car as I opened the door. “Asabuhi!” I said as I folded myself into the vehicle. I turned to see 3 smiling faces.
It’s still cool so it was a comfortable drive back to Kisisriri. The conversation was light while we talked about the funeral. Life goes on, all is well. The plan was to construct a fence around Reuben’s grave to make sure that the cows that cross by don't disturb it. That was all I knew about the day, but that was not all that we did.
As we pulled into the compound, we turned right and parked the car in front of a goat tied to a stake. Isaac put the car in park but before he shut the engine off, he pointed smiling and said, “You’re gonna die soon,” with an innocent chuckle following the statement. My first thought was, “Wow he doesn’t look that old,” but I was glad I didn’t vocalize it. This guy was going to be a lunch, or dinner, or both.
As warranted, we first went to see Isaac‘s mom. I greeted her with a smile and took her hand as we entered her home. She was seated in the first chair closest to the door. The bright sun shining on her face. I chose a chair along the back wall opposite the door and sat quietly, watching her. Children and grandchildren played outside and constantly passed by the door running and giggling. Grace sat perfectly still just staring through the doorway and outside; her crutches leaning up against the frame of the door. This was her window, and she loved what she saw. Everything outside said, “All is well,” inside though, I felt a bit of heaviness. It may have just been me… staring at the empty seat across for me that Ruben always occupied.
Isaac soon reappeared in the doorway obscuring the sun that was fighting to get into the room. “OK, time to go,” he said with a smile, looking into his mother’s eyes and smiling before we departed. I touched her shoulder on the way out the door. Life goes on. The men were all standing around Reuben’s grave, at least a dozen cedar posts had already been planted in the ground and they were hammering the dirt against the base to ensure that the post didn’t move as they fastened barbed wire to them. Pressure treated wood is unknown and Kenya, and when you don’t have pressure treated wood, you use cedar. They tamped the soil at the base of each post packing it in with long iron prybar similar to the ones you’d find in the states. It looked like a 5 foot iron nail, and the end with the flat head was perfect for the job. No cement; it wasn’t necessary. If you don’t need it, you don’t buy it. A shiny spool of brand new barbed wire lay off to the side. I watched as one of the grandsons tried to begin unraveling it. No gloves. I think I know what I’m bringing the brothers in February. Heavy-duty wire cutters might be a good addition to that potential gift list. And the list continues to grow: pliers, Leatherman multi-tools, and perhaps a couple of hammers. The hammers that they use to nail the barbed wire is just a pipe welded to the head. I can hear OSHA screaming in the background.They stretch the wire tightly to further support the cedar posts and prevent them from moving. I grabbed the top of one of the posts trying to move it as they nailed the wire to the posts. It was only tamped dirt, but you would’ve thought that cement had already set underneath the soil. Andrew then came down from the house walking down the hill with a knife and each hand. “Adam,” he said, "I have a job for you.” He handed me one of the knives and said, “Follow me.”
As we made our way through the compound, I saw what my next job was going to be. We stood on the northern edge of a huge carrot field. Most of the crop had been harvested, yet many remnants remained. They will be eaten by the cows later in the day and throughout the week. I looked down at the ground where a bed of large leaves had been placed. Bed, indeed. I can’t remember who is holding the rope, following behind him was the aforementioned goat. What came next would certainly be ridiculed by the west, but this is a centuries old tradition. Blood from the goat is precious and is integral to Maasai culture. This goat helped provide. His blood was collected in a small stainless steel basin. Thinking about it now, It probably wasn’t that small at all. It was about a foot in diameter and 6 inches deep. I say “small” because significantly larger ones were scattered around the area where many were now gathered to watch the ceremony. Grandchildren (boys and girls alike) had gathered as well. They varied in age from 5 to 15, and this was how they learn. Once the blood was collected, the goat was killed and the work began. I hadn’t realized that we were shielded by tall trees, providing some privacy, and even peacefulness to this ceremony. The work was done by males only. There were women/girls watching, but the men/boys did all the work. Even though I still had a knife in my hand, I was not participating in what came next. I was definitely not qualified. Two but no more than three men went to work immediately.
First the goat was skinned. This was the longest part of the process. Superficial cuts were made around it’s legs about 4” above it’s hooves, and another around it’s neck. The last cut ran along his belly. Again, just deep enough to pierce the hide. The two doing the cutting were like surgeons. I don’t think they said a word to each other the entire time. They did, however, answer every single one of my questions; and I had a lot. The hide will be sold at market, but it won’t fetch much; probably 200ksh at most ($2). It was a lot of work, but they weren’t doing it for the hide, they were doing it to eat, to pray, to survive. The sounds were unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It was akin to tearing a bath towel with your bare hands. It looked like they could have done this blind folded. When they finished with one side, the goat was lifted in the air and turned so that the process continued on the leaves. The short woolen hide was then tossed to the side.
I won’t give you the nitty gritty, of what came next. But here are the highlights. There was a purpose for every organ that was removed. Every single one. I continued to pepper them with questions. Every once in a while, the question would elicit some gigging for the “not new to goat gutting” spectators. Unlike everyone else, this was my first rodeo. The viscera was removed and separated. Andrew called me again. “Do you still have your knife?” “I’m holding it as instructed, Andrew.” He laughed. “Cuja hapa.” “Come here.” As I came around the other end of the goat, one of the two surgeons was removing the membrane from around the kidneys. He took his knife and cut a small piece off the kidney. Without saying a word, he held it out in front of me. I think I had an out of body experience, because I didn’t hesitate. Instead, I watched myself take a slice and pop it in my mouth like it was an M&M. It wasn’t an M&M. It was still quite warm and was as tender as a medium filet; it was also incredibly sweet. The unmistakable hint of goat was present. It was delicious. Seriously. Go ahead and judge me now. Please. Seriously, please judge me now because I don’t want to judge me later… and you’re going to want to.
The same exercise was repeated with the liver. Not as sweet with a slightly different texture, but it was again, delicious! There ended the “raw” portion of the day. Next, I got up close and personal with “matumbo.” That’s Kenyan tripe, sans FDA oversight. Fortunately, it won’t be ready for a few days. I did get to watch them clean out the stomachs and parts that I could not identify. At one point, one of the surgeons removed a long tubelike section, stretched it out and blew into one end like it was the spit valve on a trumpet. That just made me laugh; it made him laugh, too. Truth be told, I’ve never had matumbo, but if I was going to try it, it would be with this family. They’re all marvelous cooks. While the men do all the barbecuing, the women do everything else… and that statements not relegated to the kitchen.
Everything was removed from the inside of this animal, and placed in particular bowls. Almost all of the fat was in one of the large stainless steel basins, and it was overflowing. No doubt about it, there’s a lot of fat on a goat. I got the call again. “Adam, cuja.” I watched as a young boy reached into the bowl and pulled out a large piece of fat that had pieces of meat attached to it. One of the more experienced boys sat in a chair with a knife similar to mine. The boy would hold the fat, and while the other one cut it into small pieces. The boy would move it around in his hand trying to get a section that wouldn’t slide out of his fingers while still providing ample space to cut. The chunks that were removed were placed into yet another bowl. I watched for about 15 minutes. Although I didn’t ask for one, a chair was brought for me, and I was assigned a boy (probably 7 years old) to hold this stuff. “Have you ever done this before?” I asked. “Yes,” was his answer. “Good, at least one of us has.” He smiled. I thought for sure I was going to slice off a finger before this was over. I just wasn’t sure if it was going to me his or mine. There’s something not right about stretching out goat fat. It’s sometimes an exercise in futility. The only thing that makes it remotely possible to cut is an incredibly sharp knife. The reality is that this is how the boys learn. Eventually, this young man will be the one holding the knife, and he will continue to learn until he reaches the rank of “surgeon.” That’s my word, not theirs.
Again, more questions. These “cubes” of fat/meat (90%/10%) will be cooked with the blood and herbs. The ribs that I heard cracking in the background will be barbecued. The meatiest portions will be used for stew. I prefer to have the meatier parts barbecued, but that wasn’t on the menu. Too many mouths to feed, and besides, stew goes a long way. Two of us continued to cut until everything was reduced in size. That bowl was then whisked away. When I stood up, I realized that they had already begun to barbecue the ribs. A stick was run through each set of ribs like a hairpin. One end was stuck in the ground while the other was angled onto a nearby ranch. This perched the cage directly over the charcoal fire. It was constantly turned by Andrew. He knows what he’s doing. He also squirreled away some pieces of goat and was roasting those on smaller sticks along the side of the metal tin holding the burning coals. About 6 of us got the smaller pieces of goat that were identified as “the staff” and “the skin.” This is why I shouldn’t ask questions. That was bit too general, so I asked for more details. I don’t care to divulge those at this time. The staff was first. One of the men bit off a piece and handed it to me. I took a bite. It was quite tasty, and before I could even swallow, a piece of “the skin” was handed to me. That one was definitely more fatty, but it had the consistency of the skin from a roasted chicken, and was just as tasty. I now have to tell you that this is the part where I’m asking you not to judge. I said to the few men who were also partaking, “If my wife knew what I was eating, she’d never kiss me agina.” The laughter is probably still rolling through the hillside! For the record, I told Andrea, Kevin and Karen during a phone conversation. Karen laughed, between fake “I’m vomitting” noises. Kevin probably hasn’t spoken since. Andrea, well, it’s going to take some time, but I think she will kiss me again. Eventually.
If I were trying to find the positive in all of it, I would say something like, “At least I didn’t eat his testicles.” Just to remove any doubt, I didn’t eat his testicles. At least not without my knowledge. The last time I saw them the were still resting on the leaves… whole. They actually looked like a couple under-filled water balloons. Yes, I’m stalling. Okay, enough already. What they call “the staff” and “the skin” translates to “the penis” and “the scrotum.” Hey! I said don’t judge me, and I even warned you earlier. In the spirit of “measure twice, cut once,” I re-re-verified both terms with Isaac. It hadn’t changed from the night before. For those of you that remember the show Fear Factor… fear is not a factor for me. I refuse to listen to any of the jokes/puns that will be lobbed at me upon my return to the states. I will not dignify them with a response.
Who am I kidding, it’s funny stuff, and I’m sure I’ll be laughing with you.
Can we move on now? Seriously, it’s like you’re a bunch of children! Anyhow…
Everyone in attendance got a single rib. I’m convinced that Kenyans have a teeth/jaw combination only rivaled by a Rottweiler. They cleaned the bones until they sparkled. Me, not so much, despite David telling me I did well. While we ate, I got a small course in Kiswahili from Alfred’s eldest daughter. Now I can say, “Hi caroti ni tamo” “Hee kah-row-tee nee tah-moh” This carrot is delicious. I’ve been practicing that line ever since… inserting various items in place of “caroti.”
When everything was finished and removed from the area, I was led back up to the house for chai. Lawrence had been waiting patiently, and his patience had run out. As I caught up to him, I said, “I have goat fat all over my hands.” “It’s okay, we’re going to give you a cup.” Lawrence is incredibly quick witted and I’ve enjoyed joking with him during the day. He has a dry sense of humor, and I love it. I drank my chai, and the next two refills before being summoned yet again. The mixture of blood and fat/meat called “menono” was being cooked on the other side of a fence. I turned the corner to find one of the five trenches filled with charcoal and burning hot. Why buy a barbecue when you can dig one in the dirt. These were all roughly the same size - about 3’ long and 1.5’ wide. The remnants from previous fires were sitting at the bottom. Whether they used charcoal or timber for those fires, the only thing left behind was a small amount of ash. Lawrence was stirring the menono with a large wood spoon. The pot was barely big enough for it’s contents and if something fell out, they cleaned it off and ate it. They asked me if I’d like to try it, so I jumped in. It was just constant folding to make sure everything touched the metal pot. I am happy to say that i didn’t lose a single morsel. I’m not so happy to say that the children watching were amazed that I knew how to stir. They made sounds like they were watching fireworks. I think that’s a little embarrassing. I’m a good stirrer.
Not a single thing on that goat went to waste (don’t say it). After the brain and eyes are removed, even the head will be boiled to make soup. I’ll be missing that one, too. I’m guessing that will be served with the matumbo.
After everything was done cooking, we moved back to the other side of the house and sat on makeshift benches and talked, although we probably laughed more than talked.
The ladies were cooking behind the scenes the entire day. We were brought plates of cabbage, spinach and ugali along with the pot of menono. I’m pretty sure that it’s the first time I ate anything whose main ingredient was goat blood, but that too was fabulous. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that the testicles weren’t in it, but one thing’s for sure; I’m not asking.
We stayed outside and continued to laugh and tell stories. Nothing has changed. All is well. This is a remarkable family.
The sun was beginning to go down and the breeze was picking up. Although I was perfectly comfortable in my shortsleeve shirt, the coats that everyone else wore wasn’t enough to keep them from shivering. It was then that I brought out pictures of Andrea wading through knee high snow in our back yard. “Aye!” was the common response - but it sounds like “I” at an octave higher than your speaking voice. The were still shaking there heads as we went inside.
It was 8:00 before the door was closed; not to keep out the cold, but to keep out anyone else. For the last hour, I watched people squeeze into chairs and sit on arms of those very same chairs until Alfred was sure that everyone that needed to be there was there. You see, as the first born, Alfred was now in charge of all things Kasura. It was a good mix of men and women. Without a cue, things suddenly fell silent. Alfred first spoke to me. He apologized for speaking Kiswahili and Kikuyu, but his mother spoke no english and the conversation would go much faster if they used their native tongue. He still wanted me to stay, however, because this was going to be a family discussion. It was a kind gesture and I thanked him.
He spoke for quite awhile before asking each of his brothers to speak one at a time. Then the sisters, then some of their children and finally their mom. It took two hours to iron out everything they needed to. I’m glad they didn’t rush because of my presence. I’m also glad they were not offended that I started to nod off a few times. Once that door closed, all those bodies in that room generated a lot heat. I went from being comfortable to downright warm. Couple that with a dimly lit room and a conversation I cannot follow and you have a perfect recipe for sleep.
Alfred finally said, “Okay, now Adam, we are finished, but I have some words for you.” He went on to say that his family and my family are one and we will always be intertwined. He chose his words wisely as each one came from his heart. “Our door is always open to you. You will never be a stranger hear. We love you and your family and it is important that we all come together the next time you come. It’s important that we come together every time you come. This home is your home and you and your family are most welcome.” He continued in the same vein before asking if his brother wanted to say something. Andrew parroted the same sentiment. He is the only other brother that has met all our children, and he made mention of that. “It has been too long since I have seen them. I pray that we will all come together.” Next was Anthony (in case I haven’t said it before, they pronounce it “Ahn-toe-nee”) who was proud to call me brother and Andrea sister. “Your children are our children.” Next, David. He pause for quite a while before smiling and saying, “You know, I have been thinking. We lost a bother when we were younger, and he would be your age right now. I think he just went away, and now he is back.” Their brother’s name was Emanuel. My eyes pooled on that one. Another long silence followed, and everyone’s heads were shaking in agreement. Alfred broke the silence. “Lawrence would you like to say something to Adams?” Lawrence who was sitting so low on the chair beside Leah that he looked like he was in bed responded quickly. “Ah, no.” Isaac burst out laughing, and everyone followed suit. The corner of Lawrences mouth turned up. I was laughing, too. Alfred then called on Isaac who reaffirmed everything that was said. “Our family and your family… we are the same.” It was incredibly touching and very much unexpected. It didn’t stop there. Everyone in the room said something, referencing something that I said to them over the last two days, or something that I did. My coming over to represent the family was so greatly appreciated and spoke to the love that we have for Isaac, Grace and the entire family… even those we didn’t know! The feeling is definitely mutual.
The evening ended (or at least this portion of it) with prayers from Alfred’s eldest daughter. When she finished, Isaac stood up and said, “Before we depart, the ladies would like to make you something small.” Out came plates of chapati, stew, rice and cabbage salad. It was 10:15pm. Dinner is served! I ate it all.
A few minutes later as individual conversations popped up, Leah, who was still seated next to me looked at her husband and said, “Isaac, twende,” holding out her arms with her palms up. I love that lady! “Isaac, let’s go!”
We all said our goodbyes which was more hugs than handshakes as we headed through the darkness towards Isaac’s car. Alfred joined us. Isaac was going to take him to his home. Yep, that meant that Alfred, Leah, Caleb and Tatiana were all in the back seat. When Alfred got in he said, “Why is you seat so far back?” I started to move it forward and he shouted, “I’m joking, i’m joking!” A sense of humor is in the Kasura’s genetics.
We got back to the Park Villa at 11pm. Isaac said, “Let’s start at 10 tomorrow,” and I said, “asante,” “thank you.” I got to my room and got situated to call Andrea before I started blogging. Sure enough, there were some more “staff and skin” jokes before they hung up. A sense of humor is in our genetics, too.
Tomorrow we should get the modem squared away - I really miss being able to see Andrea when I'm speaking with her. The Safaricom modem solve that problem. I won’t be able to add pictures until the modem is up and running, so look for an update in these postings that will have the pictures added. I’ll probably end up doing it on the way to Maasai Mara. I’d rather get caught up on the writing, first. All is well.