the purlieus of Kisumu
S’s second outing with M and her sister was to Kericho, a town known for its tranquility and manicured tea plantations. Given that Kenya was a former British colony, it should come as no surprise that it is the world’s third largest exporter of tea, after India and Sri Lanka. Tea makes up 20-30% of Kenya’s export income. Even so, visiting a tea plantation or factory proved to be much more difficult than one would expect in a town that has a tea plantation every few hundred meters. After driving around aimlessly it was clear that the girls needed a plan. S suggested stopping at a building with a large sign that read Chai House. Sadly, it was just an office complex. Seeing an office for the Kenyan Tea Board, M thought it had potential and marched upstairs. S and M’s sister followed suit. M asked the secretary if she knew of any local tea plantations or factories that tourists could visit. A minute later her boss opened his office door and ushered them inside. In typical Kenyan hospitality, he called up a tea factory and asked to stop by for an impromptu visit, put a stop to his work day, and led the way to the factory, which was owned by the president, Kibaki, himself. Even without any shocks in M’s car, it was worth the 12 kilometers of jostling on Kericho’s bumpy roads to see how tea leaves are made into tea, and to learn to taste test like a tea connoisseur.
There was not much to do in Kisumu itself except to visit M’s research office, dine, and go shopping. One memorable stop was at Pendeza Weaving, a collective that trains people living with HIV to weave. S had been meaning to purchase a tablecloth and had measured the dining room table but doubted her own accuracy. That and the metric conversion left S debating for some time about cutting the azure cloth to size. M and her sister patiently waited while S second-guessed herself. Shopping is one of M’s least favorite activities and after some time she pointed out that the Luo word for foreigners is odiero. We are dubbed this in honor of a bird (in English a shrike) known to be very fussy. On that note, S made her decision to purchase the tablecloth and told the weaver working in the shop the length and width – the end. No need to be like an odiero over a tablecloth.
The flight back from Kisumu was short and sweet, and the traffic from the airport back home relatively tame for a Thursday morning. Not having had the chance to grab breakfast, S was looking forward to a cold glass of water and some eggs and toast at home. She opened the freezer to grab some ice and a pungent stench nearly bowled her over. The ice cubes had turned to water and that fetor was of rotting fish and chicken. The fridge was clearly broken. Luckily, S had kept the phone number of every repairman who had ever come to the house. An electrician eventually came and pronounced the fridge dead beyond repair – the compressor was busted. It was a dispiriting end to an enjoyable week away from Nairobi.