Written by CorpsAfrica/Kenya Volunteer Ms. Sharon Jelagat
It’s been a month and a few weeks since I arrived at my site, a village called Vota found in Machakos county, the eastern part of Kenya. It is a dry, slightly flat area full of baobab trees. You already know it’s hot. I remember we arrived at my site in the morning hours and the sun was already scorching. Sometimes, my phone records temperatures as high as 320 degrees Celsius. The main tribe in this area is called Kamba. I was welcomed by my host family, who served us tea and told my fellow Volunteers they had to take the tea because if they didn’t I would follow them behind, it is their custom not to refuse anything you are offered. I was excited and nervous at the same time, that’s how I could best describe my feelings. The people in the village didn’t know either me or CorpsAfrica, I had to start by introducing who I am, what am I doing there and how will I do it. People here speak the local language everywhere from church, to market to homes. I knew I had to quickly learn Kamba so I could easily fit in, respond to people, or even make conversations. I would always insist that my host grandmother talk to me in Kamba. My other tutors were children and many villagers who would assume that I was one of their own and speak to me in Kamba, I would later ask what they meant. I would note them down in my book and rehearse later at night. I was so conscious of everything around me, from how I walked, talked, worked, and dressed. I felt like my every step was being watched and judged. Honestly, it was so uncomfortable.
Slowly I eased into the community. I learned the greetings, which I enjoy so much, especially when greeting people younger than me, I say wacha? They respond with Aah! In Swahili wacha means leave it, it felt weird that this means How are you in their language! During the community meetings, I greet them in Kamba which surprises them every time. The mood suddenly changes to friendly and social compared to when I greet them in our national language, Swahili. It is like an icebreaker. Later as I progress into my service I realize speaking the same language as others gives a sense of understanding and empathy.
My first place of integration was the church. There too they speak pure Kamba though I enjoy the singing and the dancing. I met a group of youth who invited me to their fellowship, I made my first youth friends there. Outside the church still nobody knew me, for better integration, I settled on visiting the women and self-help groups around the village. I met a lot of women from three different villages who were eager to know about what I bring to them. Sometimes it was challenging as they would often ask, so how are we benefitting?
The month of December was slow. The community is always laid back because of the Christmas celebrations, it is always family time. No meetings and Baraza was happening till January. After the new year has gone, the community is back to hustle and bustle. I met with the area sub-chief carrying out his duties. I did my introductions, he told me he had a Baraza and would love me to accompany him. I had no plans to, but as a Volunteer one of the rules is always to be ready, so I accepted the offer.
I have tasted Muthokoi the famous Kamba food, which I have loved. The food is not so different from where I was raised, here food is quite scarce and anything edible can be combined, like ugali (made of maize flour and water) and potatoes. The community members are happy and very generous. The houses are far apart from each other and walking long distances under the hot sun has become my new normal. I like it here.
We always think we are limited till we break those limits and we realize we are limitless.