4 January, 2014
Being an American on my way to unknown Kenya for four months, taught very well by my mother and father to ‘be prepared’, my two suitcases were packed, stuffed with just-in-cases. One weighed 60 pounds, and the other 63. I had two pairs of boots, dress shoes, two pairs of sneakers, books, flashlights and batteries for power outages, just-in-case Kraft macaroni and cheese, my iPod and player for acting class, surge protectors with Kenyan voltage, and vitamins and toiletries and casual and dress clothes, including three sports coats, for the more formal style in which I would be expected to teach.
I left our home in Cincinnati in a snow-storm at 10 am on Thursday, 2 January, departed Boston in a blizzard at 9 pm, and after a transfer in Amsterdam and a slow entry through immigration in Nairobi, arrived at Kenyatta University at 11pm on Friday, 3 January. My first night was spent at the conference center; I would be taken to my new home for the next four months the next morning.
I brought my bags to the desk in the morning, my two heavy suitcases and two carry-on bags, heavy with an iPad and a Macbook Pro and cords and a camera and Kenyan currency, ready to be driven to my new home as instructed. I was met at the desk by three people. Instead we began to walk. There was no car. I was ashamed that they were lugging my bags, shut out as they began to converse in Kiswahili.
And then it happened. Consolata, in her house-keeper dress and sandals, grabbed my suitcase with the orange HEAVY-tag placed on it by Delta so they could charge me a higher price, and hauled her arm in a quick circle and placed my suitcase on her head. I know I shouted ‘NO!’. I had struggled mightily to put the suitcase in the car trunk. But the suitcase, all 63 pounds, was balanced perfectly, and she walked on, outpacing us, holding the suitcase with just one arm on the top of her head. I was in shock.
I am in Africa.