Once Upon a Time in Upcountry


Shem and I took a trip to his family’s home upcountry a few days after my mom left Kenya. It seems like if you go anywhere nirth of Nairobi people refer to it as “upcountry”. Upcountry describes the homeland of a person, the place where their tribe and family is; it is rural and represents a significant part of a person’s identity. Upcountry is visited on holidays and when a guy becomes “of age” and starts a family he is expected to travel upcountry and build a house there to represent his presence to the community.

So now that you have a background of what I’m talking about when I say “upcountry” let me give you specifics…

Chooch feeds the chickens outside of her home

Shem and I traveled to Nyanza by taking an overnight bus to Homa Bay which overlooks Lake Victoria. After arrival at 5 am last monday morning we took a matatu for over an hour on a rural muddy road until we finally alighted by a road leading to Ruma National Park. Shem and I stood for a few minutes looking at the next leg of our adventure… a 10-12 kilometer walk with our luggage in a game park until we would arrive at his mother’s family’s homes. Their tribe in Jaluo.

Rose and I

As we walked along this dirt road we passed giraffe, antelope, and gazelle very close by. There are also cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas in the area but I was very glad not to see any of them since Shem was not carrying his rungu (a wooden maasai club). Finally when we arrived to his family’s shambas of corn, beans, spinach, and sunflowers we were warmly welcomed even though we surprised them since Shem likes showing up without much notice. Immediately we were taken around to all the of the homes that were spaced out between shambas (gardens) and I was introduced to uncles, aunts, cousins, second- cousins, and others. Lastly we landed at Rose’s home who is wife to Shem’s great aunt’s son (I think). This was one of my “home-bases” during my stay here and I loved getting to know this mother and her 2 1/2 year old daughter Mercy (or fondly called Chooch!).


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