At this point in our walk we were trekking along the highway. This strip of asphalt–tarmac–led all the way from the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean, cutting across all of Kenya and leading to Uganda. It is the lifeline not only for those two countries but the port for Rwanda and Burundi as well. There was a continual line of trucks transporting the goods needing to flow in and out of these four countries. In my original story narrative I had Muchoki and Jata staying on this road–following the string through Nairobi and onwards along the Mombasa Highway toward Machakos. But once again the road had different plans. The walking paths along the sides of the road became increasingly narrow until it was no longer safe for us to walk along the road. An alternative was needed. As in the story, we saw the parade of people walking along the road cross over along a small, muddy dirt track. Our guards stopped and asked about this route. They were told it was a ‘short cut’ and that we would eventually join back with this road. Our group, like Muchoki and Jata, were now leaving the string behind.
With the highway behind us, we were welcomed by a sense of calm and peace. No longer overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of the trucks, no longer pushed by gusts of air as they passed or feeling threatened by their proximity, we relaxed. True, we didn’t know exactly where we were going but there were always people along the way to ask. We moved along. Sometimes we were on a fairly clearly defined road. Other times it was nothing more than a dirt track that no vehicle could possible negotiate. Other times we went down paths, cutting across private property, going down lanes.
If our little parade was unusual along the main road, it was a source of near-shock along this part of the journey. People tumbled out of houses, raced across fields, stood at fences, waving, staring and calling out. Our guards asked for directions and one man said he believed we were the first white people to walk there since colonial times or even before. He was not a young man and he couldn’t recall ever seeing such a group. He walked with us for a while–not just to make sure we understood his directions–but simply because he wanted to be with us.
I was not surprised by the friendliness of the people. I was not surprised by the way we were attracting attention. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the number of people who joined in with us. Often we’d be trailing a dozen or more children–some seemingly no older than four or five. They’d join with us, sometimes walking more than half a mile, simply to be part of our parade. They were obviously most comfortable talking to our four young Kenyan participants–and Mutuku talked to everybody–but they seemed fascinated with my daughter Julia and her friend Kate. Often they would stare at them in wonder and wanted to touch their arms or hair.
The land was rich, lush and cultivated. Crops were growing, livestock was roaming and the houses appeared to be solid. The color of prosperity in Kenya is green. If there are crops growing, the people can live solid lives. The people in this area were pre-dominantly Kikuyu. This would have been very reassuring to Muchoki–to hear his ‘mother’ tongue being spoken around him. Of course, for us, we were almost always approached, greeted, in English. Again, it was pretty obvious that we weren’t from around there.
For Henry, however, conversations would often be started in Kikuyu. Henry, like the majority of middle-aged and younger Kenyans, speaks three languages. He speaks both national languages–Swahili and English–as well as his mother tongue which is Kakamba. The historic mother tongue of an area is the language of instruction in schools for the first years of elementary education. For Henry, for our four young Kenyan participants, that was Kakamba.
That didn’t mean they didn’t understand what was being asked of them. There is a very strong overlap between Kikuyu and Kakamba. Henry was able to understand most of what was being spoken and could respond back in terms that they would have understood. Of course that those times people seamlessly switch in Swahili.
It is fascinating watching people interact in a variety of languages. People on the street–newscasters on TV–employ a fixture of Swahili, English and mother tongues–often in the same sentence.
Muchoki and Jata would have been raised to speak Kikuyu. Jata would still be having the majority of her school taught in her mother tongue although both English and Swahili would be subject areas in her curriculum. Muchoki would have been taught in Swahili for the last four years of his education with English being a subject area. I also have his mother speaking to him–particularly when he was young–in Kakamba. This is going to be an important element in the story for the last scenes. Typically people as old as his grandparents would have almost no English and possibly limited Swahili.
It was around this time that I saw two little black lambs. They were on their own, eating and running and frolicking. I noticed that I wasn’t the only one. As I snapped a picture Matt started filming them.
I thought about Muchoki and Jata being all on their own as well, and Jata seeing the two babies:
“Look at those babies,” Jata said.
Two little black sheep nuzzled against their mother at the side of the road. She was trying to graze and they were trying to nurse. They were frolicking and jumping and bumping into each other. It made me smile.
“Those two little ones are like me and you,” I joked.
And then on cue the mother sheep appeared and the babies run to her. Jata’s next line basically wrote itself.
“No, they are not. They have their mother.”
Sometimes you think of a line and it seems so true that you don’t just write it, you feel it. Even the lambs had somebody. Our characters were alone and I felt a profound sense of sorrow, especially for Muchoki. Jata had him–
“You are right, there is a difference . . . more than one. Neither of those little babies has a big brother who is there to provide for them. You have that.”
She took my hand. That was her answer.
It was Sunday morning. All along the way we were passing by churches–large and small. Almost always the windows and doors were open and the voices flowed out and onto the road as we passed. If we wanted to we could have stopped, walking in and been welcomed in any of these churches.
I knew that if this was a normal Sunday that my characters would have been in church along with their family. In my story Jata suggested they go into the church, but it is Muchoki who needs to be there. Jata has him. He has nobody. He needs not only a place to rest but a place to find comfort. There is an obvious conflict in him–a church is where his father was murdered, and all sorts of questions have been brewing in him about God and faith and religion. He has the beginning of questions but he has no answers. He is still filled with doubt, confusion, anger and a desire on some level to get revenge for his father.
They enter the church hearing the same words being sung from the song Jata was singing earlier in the story–Charity, Charity. This song is special to me. Those are “our” children, the orphans of The Rolling Hills Residence singing that song on a Sunday morning service. It’s a song that they love to sing.
The minister in my scene gives a powerful sermon. The Pastor–Reverend Phillip–is the man I had pictured in my mind as I wrote this scene. He is, quite simply, one of the best people I’ve ever known. He has a strong faith, a solid belief system, unquestionable integrity, and such a respect for all people of all faiths. If my characters had walked into his church on that fateful day what would they have heard? That’s what I tried to write.
There is a strange case of art imitating life and life imitating art in these scenes. I wrote the sermon in my book imagining what Reverend Phillip would say. He read this scene and was inspired to give the sermon that I was there for.
I wish that I could report that all churches acted as agents of peace. In some instances they ignored the violence that was swirling around. In others they fanned the flames.
Reverend Phillip would have welcomed people of all ethnic and religious groups into the sanctuary of his church. He would have offered them comfort and protection. Like I said–he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.
These are the scenes that help to propel Muchoki forward. This journey that he’s on isn’t simply one that involves moving his feet–but also changing his mind.