|Saturday was another early start as our hire car was being delivered at 07.30 in the morning ! After completing the necessary paperwork, we became the proud temporary owners of a Toyota Rav 4x4 which we would have for the next 12 days. Our first destination was the family home in Kabati for a party that daughter Patricia had organised so she would have the opportunity to meet her many relatives before she returned to Holland. And when I say many relatives, I do mean MANY relatives.
Agnes has 7 brothers (Kamau, Kangetha, Mwangi, Maish, George, Paul and Sam) and two sisters (Lucy and Rose) and each family has between 3 and 5 kids, some of whom have their own kids. In addition, there are Agnes's many Uncles and Aunts who have lots of nieces and nephews, some of whom again have their own kids. The confusion is enhanced since most people have at least two names (e.g some of Agnes's family call her Wambui, her Kikuyu name) and because children are encouraged to call any adult Uncle or Aunt out of respect even when they are unrelated. So having got Agnes to write down the names of brothers and sisters, so I could at least remember the name of the main characters, we headed to the party where I met over 100 of her family, relatives and friends.
Firstly however I had to negotiate the dusty bumpy pothole and speed bump strewn "highway" to Thika. Fortunately, I quickly realised that the main road rule in Kenya is "who dares wins" and that driving aggressively and changing lanes continuously is the only way to ensure that you and your car stay in one piece so your passangers arrive safely. A typical 2 km road section is as follows: whilst driving in the left lane brake heavily for the unmarked speed bump but take it slightly quicker than the car beside you so that you can get into the right lane before the bus that is stopping 50m in front of you. Then accelerate quickly for the next 200m to overtake a car on your inside, slow abruptly and drive over the verge to avoid the large potholes covering both lanes. Next prepare to change lane to overtake the truck in front of you via the inside lane whilst being careful to check your mirrors first so you don't hit the matatu that is already overtaking you on the inside. Having passed the truck via the left lane, slow for the upcoming roundabout and negotiate your way between the rotating traffic whilst getting the support of your co-pilot to determine which of the unmarked exits you should take. Exiting the roundabout, move immediately to the right lane as the aforementioned matatu is now stopping on the left to pick up passengers in a dusty lay-by. Take care to avoid the 3 matatus that are now pulling onto the road whilst simultaneously avoiding the pedestrians running both ways across the road from the matatu stop. Accelerate quickly in the right lane to get past the departing matatus so you can get back to the left lane before the pothole that is filling most of your right lane. Accelerate again and continue for the next 45km !
I was happy therefore when I heard cousin Shicko and her friend, who we picked up just outside Nairobi, exclaim within 10km enthusiastically to Agnes that her new boyfriend could really drive like a Kenyan and to learn that it was actually meant as a compliment !
We eventually arrived safely at Agnes ancestral home, 2.5km outside Kabati at about 2pm. There we were greeted enthusiastically by Agnes's mum. The girls joined the "women" around the house where they were preparing chapatis and vegetables and drinking tea whilst Leon and I were escorted down to the some trees on the farm where the men were cooking a goat on a charcoal barbeque and drinking a mixture of vodka / rum and coke. Fortunately, I am a serious carnivore since during the next 2 / 3 hours, I ate about 2kg of meat from the goat including a type of local haggis (i.e. intestines stuffed in the stomach !). I also got the chance to know brothers George, Kamau and Kangetha a bit better as I had not had the chance to talk with them before. George has been working as a safari guide for 13 years and is a real extrovert and the life of the party while the quieter Kamau still runs the family farm and Kangetha is the boss at a local bar in Thika. Everybody was extremely friendly and went out of their way to get know me and make me feel at home introducing me to various family members and locals (who were invariably called Uncle something).
After a couple of hours the Women joined us and everybody tucked into the Meat, Vegetables and Chapatis although if I am honest I can't remember seeing any of the vegetables. That may have had something to do with the fact that the beer had now arrived and we were all drinking various mixes of the local Tusker, White Cap or Pilsener beer along with the abovementioned Rum & Coke. As an honoured guest, I was given also the opportunity to be the first to eat from the goats heart which was quite tasty. In the meantime, I had also been introduced to sister Lucy and various aunts, wifes, daughters and nieces. Being the only Mzungu (white guy) there, everybody knew me where I could only remember those of about 20 of the 100 plus people that I had been introduced to. But everybody was very friendly and nobody seemed to mind that I kept getting names wrong.
The party was now in full swing and everybody was laughing and joking whilst sitting around the barbeque and fireplace. Then uncle Mos, Agnes's mum's brother, interrupted proceedings to give me a Kikuyu challenge ! Failing would mean that I had to pay for the goat at the next party but if I succeeded the goat would be on him. With George and Kangetha watching and giving advice, I had to select one piece of meat from large plate. Fortunately, I correctly selected the meat covered shoulder blade but then I had to decide what to do with it and correctly surmised that I was supposed to use my fingers and teeth to eat it completely clean. With help from Agnes and George, I rose to the challenge and started enthusiastically chomping on the bone. Kamau then offered the advice that I should pierce it with a knife before presenting it back to uncle Mos who confirmed the next goat was on him and that I was now accepted as part of the Mburu family, resulting in cheers and whistles from the assembled family members !!
As it was the first time in a year that everybody had been together and over 4 years since Patricia and Leon had been there, Uncle Mos started a series of speeches thanking everybody for coming to the party. Agnes’s mum and each brother and sister then took it in turns to say a few words with Agnes or George translating for me. Next up were Patricia and Leon (in English, even though he is just 12 !!!) who both gave excellent speeches. Then all the children and grandchildren were gathered together so they could introduce themselves as some of them were new but many of them had changed a lot since the other family members had last seen them. To finish Uncle Mos introduced me but announced that it would be easier if I changed my name to Del Monte after the local pineapple farms. Then I was given the opportunity to speak and I thanked everybody for a truly warm welcome to their family home, hoping that I would have the opportunity to return again with Agnes sometime soon.
We then all continued talking, drinking and celebrating until eventually around 10 or 11 pm people started to head home or go to sleep on some of the beds or couches in the family home. Fortunately, as a guest, I got a bed and about 2 milliseconds after putting my head down I fell into a deep alcohol induced sleep. I woke early the following morning with a strong hangover. After going out for some fresh air, I ended up playing football with some of the kids (who insisted on calling me uncle !) until the adults started crawling out from under their blankets. After a breakfast of chapatis, sweet potatos and sweet milky chai, I took another nap and after a couple of hours sleep was finally fit enough to drive everybody home.
By the time I woke, Patricia and Leon had already been taken to Thika so they could spend a week with their father and so after bringing various family members home, Agnes and I were finally free to go travelling around Kenya together.
More news on our adventures in the Rift valley next week.