A Day of Home Visits

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Home Visit

One of the things I was really looking forward to experiencing at Nyumbani Village was a home visit, where you go out into the community with the social workers to assess who gets brought into the village. I was very interested to see where the kids at Nyumbani were coming from and how life outside the village compared to inside. As our departure day from Nyumbani Village came closer and closer though, I began to worry that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to tag along on one. Luckily, Bernard (the Homecare Manager) informed me of a home visit that I could go on 2 days before we left.

Running a Little Late…

I was told we would be leaving at 8am, so I was dressed and ready to go at 7:55. I didn’t want to get left behind! I shouldn’t have worried about it though; as we had already experienced on several occasions, time in Kenya doesn’t mean much. I waited and waited and waited until finally, at 10am, the truck pulled up to the administration building and Bernard said it was time to go. I climbed in the truck next to Binna, one of the social workers, and some other people that needed a ride to town, not at all sure what to expect.

Driving Issues

The ride was long, but not totally uneventful. We started out by driving to Kitui (the closest town, but still a good half hour away). When I asked how far away the home visit was Bernard laughed and said that we had only come this way to get gas: the area we were headed was completely the other direction from Nyumbani! Although I was slightly vexed at the fact that an hour had been wasted getting gas, it didn’t seem to bother anyone else. Kenyans have a different attitude about things like that it would seem- after at least another hour of driving we got a flat tire. Back at home this would have been a huge deal: frustration and stress levels running high because of wasted time. Not in Kenya though! Binna and Bernard just laughed and told me that this is a part of life and they’re used to it. After quickly switching out the tire for the spare, we were on our way again.
After another significant amount of driving time we reached the area where the home visits took place. It was a completely different part of Kenya then what I had seen so far; beautiful lush green mountainside with views of the surrounding valley that would cost a fortune back home in Utah. The mountainside was covered with large fertile gardens, called shambas, in row upon row of greenery. This was the area that Bernard had grown up in; he even pointed out his father’s house as we drove by.

And the Home Visits Begin!

The first stops of our long adventure were at 2 primary schools in the area. The first school we stopped was Bernard’s primary school, and after a quick reunion with the headmaster we left with Janet (a friend of Binna’s who knew all the families we were going to see) and 2 kids. The second school wasn’t too far away from the first, and we picked up 2 kids from there as well.
Then the actual visiting of homes began! All of the visits were pretty much the same. The first house we stopped at was the home of the first 2 kids we had picked up. They weren’t that old, neither of them could have been more than 10, and they seemed (understandably) frightened. After the shoo shoo had the kids bring out chairs, the interviewing began. Unfortunately, the interview was all in Kikamba, so I didn’t understand much of anything. Binna asked most of the questions, taking notes and looking over the death certificate of the kids’ mother. Bernard explained that this used to be a wealthy family (as was apparent by their nice buildings) but that after the death of the children’s parents, relatives had taken almost everything (land, animals, etc.). We left the small family there, waving bleakly as they watched us drive away. This was only the first interview for the family; there would follow-ups.

One Down, Three to Go!

The second home we visited was quite difficult to get to. Steep, rocky inclines and trails that I would have declared un-drivable were no problem for our driver. Eventually though, we really could go no further with the truck and had to hike up the rest of the way to the house. This family seemed significantly poorer: the mud house was particularly run down, the shamba wasn’t doing too well, there was a large pile of garbage off to the side of the house, and the shoo shoo was rail thin. After much discussion in Kikamba, I got the English briefing: the shoo shoo didn’t want to be separated from her grandkids (there were 4 of them) and she didn’t want to give up her land. The social workers were trying to convince her that there was nothing for her or the kids there, and that the village could offer them an education and a better future. The shoo shoo remained unconvinced by the time we left, but they are still trying to convince her to make the move to Nyumbani. I hope they can persuade her to move- the kids deserve a shot at a brighter future.

Mzungu! How are you?

After the second home visit we went to another school, where I was mauled by primary school children without even getting out of the car! My car window was surrounded by dozens of smiling faces, “Hello!” and “What’s your name?” and “How are you?” being shouted from every direction. I stuck out my hand to shake one of the kid’s hands as they were being shooed away, and my arm was instantly covered by about 50 hands, all wanting to touch my pale skin. I was most likely the first Mzungu (white person) some of those kids had ever seen.
When we finally left that school we had gained 2 more kids in the back of the truck, to whose house we then drove to. The family lived right next to Janet, who knew them all well. Although there were only 5 kids at the house at the time, there were a total of 9 kids in the family. The kids were all hard at work, taking turns grinding up maize to make something like cornmeal. The interview was short, and we left pretty quickly.
After a quick stop for a snack (I was expecting a banana or some sort of fruit, and instead got cake and soda) we went to the final house, where there was a cute little girl eating lunch. We talked to her shoo shoo, and then headed off. I didn’t get much information about that case, except there were 2 girls, one of which was at school.

Lunch at Bernard’s

The final stop before we finally headed back for the day was a late lunch at Bernard’s parents house. They had prepared a delicious meal of chicken, chapatti, stew, and rice. I felt awkward being waited on hand and foot by his sisters, who had spent the entire day preparing this feast and then had to serve it to us. They were all very polite and happy to have guests though! We’ve found that Kenyans are all very hospitable, and this visit was no exception. The meal was delectable and I was very pleased to have been welcomed so graciously by Bernard and his family!

Strange Coincidences

We got back to the village at around 6pm. It was a long day (8 hours!), but well worth the experience! There was another aspect of the visit that I wasn’t expecting, that occurred hours after we got back the village. During a home visit that night, some of the kids had taken my camera and were taking pictures with it. One of my friends, Alexandrina, was looking through the pictures when all of a sudden she started screaming excitedly, pointing to the tiny camera screen, and calling other people over to look. Apparently the area I had visited was her home, the school I had gotten mauled at had been her school, and some of the kids we had visited had been her neighbors! She was so excited to see pictures of all of them and looked through them all about a dozen times. I was amazed- what are the chances that I would go to that area, that I would take those pictures, and that she would see them?! I was totally astounded, but also really happy that she had been able to see pictures of her home and friends.

Decisions About the Future

All things considered I was very happy to tag along on the home visit. I learned a lot and was really happy to be a part of it all. I really loved the village. I’ve decided that after this trip is over, I’ll be going back to Nyumbani to spend a gap year volunteering there. I’m really excited for it- I feel like I have a lot to offer and gain from the experience!

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Posted on: December 3, 2010 | Categories: How People Travel, Kenya, Poverty, sustainability, Well for HIV+ Village- Kenya



  • David Manglass says:

    Excellent story Meagan. It is so heartwarming to hear of families that have so little and yet are so gracious and hospitable to a stranger.

  • Mom says:

    Meagan thank you for sharing your day. This is an incredible story and very well told. I am so happy about the experiences that you are having and seeking. Love you.

  • Meagan says:

    Thanks Mommy :) I’m having a great time- I can’t wait to get home and tell you all about it! I love and miss you!

  • Aunt Lori says:

    What a heart-warming day. It’s fantastic that you want to continue to volunteer. You are already making a difference in lives. The joy that was on the girl’s face looking at your pictures probably would have been another great picture! I am really proud of you.

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