It is almost impossible to drive through Kogelo and not feel hairs rise on the back of your neck. The village is nearly identical to other poor, rural, Kenyan villages- dirt roads, cattle herders waving long sticks, children carrying buckets on their heads. To think that in two generations, a family can move from Kogelo to Chicago is astounding. To think that, more specifically, the move started in a mud hut on an unmarked road and ended in a white house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is beyond comprehension.
The trip made me see my work in Kenya's schools and rural communities with new eyes. The students I interview and talk with - the ones with no latrines, no electricity, no running water, no money for books or shoes or uniforms or food - these kids could grow into a person that brings hope to the world.
Before anyone comments on my photos or this post, I want to say this: I hesitated about posting photos or describing this experience. For me, meeting Mama Sarah marked an experience of a lifetime; it is something I will cherish and, one day, tell my children's children. Sadly, to someone else, this marked an opportunity to write an offensive comment on my facebook page. I acknowledge that people do not agree with or respect Obama. I do not respect when individuals who call themselves my friend use my experiences to engage in bashing, from either side of the aisle. Belittling another person's enthusiasm - in this case, my enthusiasm- is in poor form and quite frankly, it was insulting. To the individual who did this- and who never before felt compelled to comment on my blog or my facebook page- I politely request that you refrain from comment.
Photos from Sunday, September 13, 2009 when I met Obama's gram and visited his father's grave...
The drive to Kogelo, nearing the village:
Arrival to Mama Sarah's house, she greets guests under this tree:
Close-up of the chairs:We were the only guests present during the visit. Sometimes there are many busses of tourists. Sunday was a slow day. We were 6 visitors from Illinois and 1 from Boston. Oh, and two turkeys who scared me to death because they were huge:
As you sit in the chairs and look to your right you see this:
As you look to your left, you see Obama's father's grave:
Directly in front of you is Mama Sarah. She spoke of her son, Barack Obama Sr. and her amazement and pride for the accomplishments of her grandson. Mama Sarah does not speak English although she understands quite a bit. She speak Dholuo, the language of the region, and her daughter (Barack's aunt) translates. My friend Bethany greeted Mama Sarah in Dholuo and Mama Sarah nearly toppled over giggling:
Mama Sarah invited me to sit next to her for a picture. I asked her how she reacted on the night that Barack gave his speech in Grant Park. She said she was so excited that she ran up and down the path to her house cheering and smiling. "She ran," her daughter said. "Even with the cane." Mama Sarah said she didn't cry that night, "I'm a Luo. Luo women don't cry when we're happy."
I smiled like this for the rest of the day. Here I am with Adam Jadhav, an old friend who stopped in Kenya to visit while en route to India. Adam and I have a growing collection of photos of us posed like this in far-flung locations:
And here's me still beaming with Amy (left) and Bethany (right) on the path from Mama Sarah's house. Amy is an epidemiologist with UIC; she is also my unofficial life coach. Bethany is my rockin colleague from Emory; she's also a confidant and close friend.As you leave Mama Sarah's to go back to the main road, you drive past the Senator Obama Secondary School. They're thinking of renaming it, but it involves quite a bit of paperwork I was told: Once you hit the main road back to Kisumu, the reality of life in Kenya hits you quickly. Here is a man that was wandering down the street:
And the ubiquitous coffin vendor:
Finally, this is the train that runs along the highway just a few minutes from my home in Kisumu:
I feel very fortunate to be precisely where I am today.