In Swahili- the national language of Kenya, Karibu means welcome. It literally means ‘Come In.’ I love the translation.
When I arrive at Comfort Gardens- a guest accommodation (as opposed to a hotel), one of the staff (Maggie) greeted me with, “Welcome home, Victoria.” On my first visit in December of 2015, I made it a point to learn most of the staff’s name and a bit about their families. They all work very hard, sometimes pulling 12-14 hour shift, 5-6 days a week. They all greeted me this May visit with happy smiles and hugs. Karibu sounds and feels good to me!
I feel like I am in a place that could be home. It is winter here which only means the temperature slightly moves down the scale and it rains more. Nairobi sits on the equator at a elevation higher than Denver, Colorado, but only experiences lush green vegetation year round.
It has been raining excessively, but my first day in Kenya has graciously given me a day of scattered clouds and sunshine. I walk along the path to the Village Market. Don’t be thrown off by this name-it is a beautiful open mall where fine shops fill both floors and the best ‘courtyard’ food you can buy lines up along a large open area where white tables and chair sit under colorful canopies. There is even a live band playing today.
Nairobi is a juxtaposition of middle-class wealth and poverty. On my way to the Village Market, I slide down a small and muddy alley way past people who have constructed small open shacks to congregate in.
A small boy has one shilling in a dirty plastic bowl as his seed money for begging while his blind mother or grandmother (?) sits on a dirt pile singing softly under her breath.
Comfort Gardens is located next to International quarters for embassies and for the United Nations building. The police station is nearby. This is a safe place for someone like myself- a mzungu (white person). At the market, I am surrounded by people from all over the world, talking in different languages.
As I mentioned before, the food is also international. I order and eat some killer pad thai and then wander down to a beautiful pastry shop to collect some scones.
Just as you have the poor and the middle class Kenyan, you have those who are very generous and those who will easily steal from you. It’s an awareness you keep with you all the time.
I walk into a fine goods store that makes high-quality leather and canvas luggage and purses. The leather is exceptional and picking up a bag, you feel the urge to buy a few and go on safari in the Great Rift Valley sixty miles away.
I am greeted by the most beautiful Kenyan woman. She is my height (5’7″), her hair is shaved off, but it only accentuates her exotic features. Her skin is smooth and her high cheek bones show off a nobility that will be with her, even as she ages into an old woman someday. She is wearing all black and gold hooped earrings; unusual rings and bracelets make her even more exotic in appearance.
Her name is Patricia, and as she and I converse about the leather goods, I tell her I love her jewelry (especially her rings) and where did she get them from? She says a friend gave them to her. I examine more bags and we continue to talk. She then goes behind the counter and to her personal bag and pulls out a beautiful brass ring. She gives it to me saying, ” I want to give this to you. You must promise not to give it away or lose it.”
I am flabbergasted! I tell her no, I cannot accept the ring, but she tells me yes. She loves jewelry and she can tell I am a lover of beautiful things as well. I take the ring and it fits me perfectly!
This is Kenya- a land of juxtapositions, of generosity and kindness, of corruption and cruelness.
As I walk back to my accommodations, the beautiful day has become even more special, more marked in my memories to come. I come upon the begging boy and blind woman, and ask if I can give him the rest of my meal. He does not understand what I am giving him. He would prefer money, I am sure. I have not exchanged my US dollars yet, so I cannot give him the Kenya shillings he needs. Perhaps if he is here tomorrow, I will.
I hand him my food, and as I do, I hear a small horn and a “Thank you.” from a driver in a car. He is clapping his hands in appreciation. For me, this is simply giving in a very small way. The driver clapping in agreement has become an inspiration to me. He has caused me to feel gratitude.
If Karibu means ‘Come In,’ then being here has felt like I have come in-to the natural beauty around me; to meeting and connecting with people such as Eugene, the young man who is working at the hotel to save up money to go to college; to people who come to Kenya as humanitarians working to support and empower the locals; and to feeling as if the very place I am staying for the next two and half weeks is really a place called temporary home for me!