Never in my life had I known a neighborhood whose name was plucked from a string of alphabet symbols.
The two cars arriving from the airport – one transporting us, the other our luggage – eased up to Maxwell’s South C home.
Their house itself sat hidden behind a stonework wall, like a shy maiden part-concealed back of a fortress of vines. And vines there were, in abundance. Bougainvillea – their rich array of petals – pinks, purples, oranges, reds garnishing much of the ‘C’ neighborhood. Ray Troyer back in San Antonio had put into my hands my first-ever 35mm camera, a second-hand Voigtlander. What beauty these flowers could show on a slide. If I can just remember Ray’s coaching how to use the thing.
“Jerry and Ann”, Jenny called out, “we’re off to Sunday morning church”. “You folks just relax. . . sleep a bit if you can. . . you’ve travelled far and long. After service we shall come collect you and we’ll go together for lunch. Good?” Weariness, having indeed caught up with us, we readily agreed. After all, this was Sunday right, a day of rest?
What would our first meal in Africa be. . . and exactly where? The question hadn’t crossed our minds. Had we given it a thought we might have assumed we would dine under a long-grass roof within a mud hut.
Entering Nairobi’s Hilton we shook our heads trying to get them around this scenario. The new and somewhat naïve American couple exited the hotel’s café an hour later having happily feasted on sandwiches and fries. ‘Chips’ Jerry, I coached myself. Fries aren’t ‘fries’ here, they’re ‘chips’.
So our first day entering Africa, a living tutorial had essentially greeted us. If formalized, an academic title might have been posted: ‘Kenya. Background and Culture 101’. This was a beautiful land of contrasts. . . rich and impoverished, tradition-steeped and cutting-edge, conflicted and united. It sobered us that we hadn’t begun to learn and it inspired us that we could start now. Here at tourism’s iconic Hilton Hotel, walking-distance from one of Africa’s largest slums – Mathare Valley.
A voice with an accent I was hearing more often called over to me. New Zealanders carried the nickname Kiwi, after the national symbol, a bird common to their Islands. “Eva needs electrical wiring put in at her Mashuru place”, offered John. “So I’ll head out there Tuesday. The job should take a couple days. . . Like to come?”
“Sure”, I piped. Getting away from the big city and out to the ‘real Africa’ would be fun, I thought. Maybe even a thrill.
Walking unarmed and alone through leopard country had not crossed my mind.
©2017 Jerry Lout