Week 13-2: Obama’s Grandma’s House – Kogelo

Wednesday morning Cosmas and I woke up very early at his sister’s house on the other side of Mfangano Island. We went around and said our goodbyes which take longer than your usual US goodbyes and even longer than your average Kenyan goodbyes. We hopped on a boat and were off…for a 3 hour boat ride to the mainland. Then we walked about 50 ft across the mainland and hopped on another boat to take us to the main-mainland. Apparently our first mainland was a peninsula so it was quicker to take a boat to the main-mainland. It took Cosmas a while to explain that one to me. Once on the main-mainland there was a matatu waiting to take all of the people from the boat. I hid so that Cosmas could find out what the price was without my whiteness making it 3-4 times higher than it usually is. When I did pop up from behind where I was hiding the driver yelled, “Mzungu, come here, come sit in front,” so I did. Cosmas had to sit in the back which made me sad because I was being treated differently because of my skin color, but they assumed they were going to charge me 3-4 times the normal price so the least they could do is give me a front seat. The matatu kept picking up people until the small van was bulging out. At one point we had 5 people standing with the sliding door open outside the van as we went down the road. We had around 20 people in a van made for 9.  Eventually, the driver asked Cosmas for his money. Cosmas paid the man for 2 and pointed at me. Then they started talking in Luo and I hadn’t a clue what they were saying, but I knew it was about me and how I should pay more. I asked Cosmas after we got out what all had been said.  He said that he told the driver that everyone should pay the same price, but the driver said that wazungu should pay more. I felt bad for Cosmas sticking up for me, but was very happy to have a Luo friend who did. After an hour and a half ride we got to a small town and I hid while Cosmas found us motorcycle drivers. After a few minutes he came around the corner with 2 motorcycles and we were driven down back roads to Grandma Sarah Obama’s house.

Note: Sarah Obama is Barack Obama’s paternal step-grandmother.  In Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father, the last section of the book is about his first trip to Kenya where he visits Kogelo, meets his grandmother, and sees where his father and grandfather are buried.

It was about 10 km (4.5 miles) outside the city. It was fun and interesting riding on the back of the motorcycle because when kids would see me I would hear, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as they frantically waved their arms at me. I waved back when I could see where they were yelling from. We finally turned off the main road (if you could call it that) and went down the drive until we came upon a large gate and fencing. As we pulled up there was a van that had just pulled up before us that contained a couple from India, an old man from Switzerland, and a man from England. They were in Kenya for a farming conference and wanted to meet Grandma Obama and give her letters. However, we were told that Grandma Obama was not home, but one of her grandkids was coming out to meet us. Her grandkid was extremely polite and graceful. He met with the others and received their letters. The old Swiss gentleman very genuinely asked the grandkid to apologize to his grandma for everything that the Europeans had done to Africa and I could tell he meant it and it had been haunting him. As I was waiting by the gate one of our motorcycle drivers came over and started talking to the grandkid in Swahili. My Swahili is not great yet, but I understood him say that Sarah was home, but didn’t want to come out which made sense. If she came out every time someone stopped by she would spend all day every day greeting people. So, we sat there outside the gate for half an hour and talked amongst ourselves. Sarah’s grandkid came over right before we left and thanked me for coming to visit. I apologized for being annoying and for all the visitors that they are receiving now and he again said, “no, we appreciate you coming and I want to thank you again.”  And with that we were off. The motorcycles took us another 10 km in the same direction to a new town where we caught a bus to Busia, a border town in Kenya.

Very Short Video of Sarah Obama’s Home:

Outside Home

From Mfangano

With Sarah Obama’s Grandkid

From Mfangano

Wow. It's Quiet Here...

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