When Julie, the other volunteer, and I arrived we were left standing there staring at a compound crowded with cows and sheep. With less than a ‘good luck’ the van drove off, leaving me with a pit in my stomach questioning every action I had ever made in my entire life.
My mothers name was Theresa. She was one of three wives to Joshua and had one daughter, Sima, living with us at the time. The rest of her children were older and living in Nairobi or with their children in neighbouring villages. She was incredible but very strict, she wanted me to be with her at all times and not go to the other host mothers for anything. She always wanted me to address her and her husband formally by bowing and waiting for them to touch the top of my head. She taught me how to make Chai the first day and said I should have tea ready in the morning for the family.
Sima grabbed my bag and I was brought into a hut where she said I would be sleeping. It was completely dark, blindingly smokey from the fire in the next room and covered in mosquitoes and flies. The walls were made of mud and cow dung and my bed was stretched cow skin. I thanked her and stared in disbelief trying to find a spot to hang my mosquito net without showing any sign of my trembling hands. I left to get some air when Julie wanted to show me her room. She was staying in the 'volunteer room' with Isabel, another volunteer from Mexico and another from Korea who had been living with the family for months. Okay, so apparently it was only me who had to have a unique authentic experience while everyone else got to stay in a beautiful wooden spacious room. Solid.
Well Gab, this is what you wanted! Right?! RIGHT?!
My mother called me over to where she was milking cows to show me how it was done. I have always had an irrational fear of cows. The way they stare blankly into your eyes without losing contact. I feel like they know exactly how people have been screwing with their kind for decades and are just about ready for a world wide revolt against us humans. I have my eyes on you cows. I am not fooled. She quickly gave up on the demonstration when I couldn't get myself to walk through the mass of cattle. She brought the milk into the kitchen and made me some Chai tea by mixing the fresh milk with sugar, tea leaves and water on the fire pit.
I'm not sure if it was a mix of me squeezing my hands between my legs to stop them from shaking, swatting away the hundreds of flies trying to get into my mouth and ear canal, the streams of tears flowing out of my ducts on a count of the smoke, or forcing the most bogus smile I have every conjured while in complete and utter culture shock must have been comical because she for one laughed and then shook her head, took me, grabbed my bag from my first room and brought me into the spare room in the hut where her and Joshua slept. It was roomy, wooden, clean and was free of any carcasses. I was embarrassed that she could see how freaked out I was when I was trying my hardest to keep it together but none the less glad I had a different sleeping arrangement.
Three wives, 16 kids, one grandchild and four of us volunteers all in three manyattas. One big happy family!
The first night was one I will never forget. After I covered myself head to toe in clothes, wrapped my mosquito net tightly around myself and tried to read my book, it sounded like the six dogs my family had were being ripped to shreds. I ran outside to see the dogs running back and forth barking so loudly. I was shocked nobody else was coming to the commotion. Theresa came out and told me they were there to scare off the hyaenas and to 'just ignore them'. I figured it would go away after a while but it went on. All. Night. Barking so loud it sounded like they were standing at the edge of my bed trying to keep me up.
After the most emotionally exhausting day of my life and being scared shitless to fall asleep from the spiders, frogs and fire ants surrounding my bed I got up, walked over to the 'volunteer room' and asked Julie "I know we only met today, but can I sleep with you?" she looked at me and said "Oh my god I was going to come ask you the same thing". We laid next to each other and I don't think either of us slept a wink that night.
The next morning I woke around 5AM and took a walk around their land to collect my thoughts. The air was clean and crisp and the scenery around the house looked like one from the Lion King. I took a wander over to check out the cattle and goats and down the road to the school. It was quiet, peaceful and exactly what I had wanted.
Yes, this month would be tough and yes, I was in over my head. But was I going to be okay? For sure. Was I going to stick through it and do what I came to do? Definitely.
Julie, Sima and I wandered down the street and found the perfect rock to climb and write in our journals. It had the most incredible view and if you were lucky (which I was once) you could see the tops of giraffe over the trees in the distance. It was magical. The few people who walked by always wanted to strike up a conversation. Some were in traditional maasai clothing an others in suits with briefcases. They all knew the family in some way or another. One man was related to our host dad and another was friends with Mark, one of the older boys. I guess you can expect to know everyone when there are only 3 families in a 20 mile radius.
" For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is "I didn't get enough sleep". The next one is "I don't have enough time." Whether true or not, the thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it "
I think this Lynne Twist line from her book The Soul of Money describes how we look at time perfectly. I was lucky enough to experience a place where this doesn't come into factor.
One morning we woke up to herd the cattle before making a big pot of chai and sitting around the fire for breakfast of a slice of bread. Julie, Sima and I walked to our favourite lookout to write in our journals and stare out at the amazing view before strolling over to Sima's sisters home next to the school. Afterwards, we walked around the school and played with the wild donkeys that roamed the field before thinking it aught to be around lunch time. We walked back to find it was not even 9am....
We started teaching the next day so that afternoon Tananko and Saalash took us for a walk to an amazing view point behind their field. Word has it there is a man who lives in the valley with over 30 wives. Although, coming from the two boys I am not sure how accurate that 'fact' is.