The Missionary’s diary
(A Kent Family Adventure)
Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
The Missionary’s Diary
by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
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First Edition Print V1.0 2011
step out onto the white balcony and stand on my tiptoes. Although there's mist on the Strait, in the distance I can see the coastline of Morocco.
I've been doing this every morning since Steve and I arrived. It fascinates me that I can stand in Europe and look over at Africa. Steve comes out onto the balcony and wraps his arms around me, his warmth contrasting with the cool autumn morning.
“Good morning, love of my life,” he says. “You really want to go there, don't you?”
“Someday,” I say, smiling and turning around so that he can give me the first kiss of the day. There will be many more.
We're on our honeymoon, but it's not an ordinary one. (If honeymoons can be described as ordinary!)
Steve's grandfather has sent us on a mission. His mother was a missionary. Her family owned two properties in Toronto and the rent covered the costs of her travels. She fully expected to be a missionary all her life, but she ended up falling in love, getting married and having Steve’s grandfather.
Recently, Steve's grandfather sold the properties so that we can travel to the same places she did and see if there's any unfinished business to attend to, anything we can do to carry on with her work.
Gibraltar was the first place the ship stopped when she set out from Toronto, back in 1906.
According to her diary, it was just supposed to be a stop to pick up more passengers. But something in her told her to take her one suitcase and disembark.
Steve and I have been here for four days and so far we have discovered no unfinished business. But then again, we've hardly been looking.
“Let's go out for breakfast,” I say.
“Oh, I dunno,” says Steve, grinning. “I like breakfast in bed.”
“We have to do something sometime!” I say.
“I think we've been pretty good at keeping busy,” he says glancing back at the unmade bed.
“Yes, I know,” I say, grabbing his hand and dragging him back into our small hotel room. “But we have to figure out why . . . your great-grandmother . . . got off the boat . . .”
I'm being interrupted by kisses.
“There must have been a reason . . .”
We fall back onto the white sheets of our double bed.
I guess we'll just have to make it out for lunch.
Hand in hand, we stroll the stone streets of Gibraltar. Our hotel is by the harbour and there are many picturesque choices for lunch. Above us is the Rock itself with all sorts of hotels and apartments built on the sloping hills. We choose an outdoor café with red umbrellas.
Gibraltar's cuisine is a mix of English and Spanish with a touch of Moroccan. We look over the menu and decide we'll both have the pasta with bolognese sauce and calentita, which is a local bread made of chickpea flour and olive oil.
When the waiter has taken our order, Steve reaches across the table for my hand.
I should be looking around and taking it all in, but I'm looking at my husband instead. Steve isn't drop dead gorgeous, but he's really nice to look at. Since we got together, he's gone from having wavy blond hair to a short cut that leaves him looking older than nineteen. I just turned eighteen and probably look it, so it's a good thing the legal drinking age in Gibraltar is sixteen. The cafés here seem to be as much about drinking wine as they do about drinking coffee.
“We should do some sightseeing after lunch,” I say.
Steve gives me one of his mischievous grins.
“Or, we could just go back to our room . . .”
“Steve,” I interrupt him. “We have to focus on this place. There's a reason why we're here and we have to figure it out.”
Steve glances around at the stone plaza with its cafés, shops and milling tourists.
“It looks fine to me.”
The waiter brings us our wine.
Steve moves his wicker chair closer to me.
“One hundred and four years have gone by,” he says. “It can wait a week or two.”
I look around.
“I wonder if your great-grandmother was here, in this spot?”
Steve takes another quick glance.
“Probably. Everything looks old.”
Now that our chairs are closer together it's easier to holds hands and our fingers are entwined. We sip our wine and smile at each other for no good reason except that it's wonderful to be alive. By the time lunch is over, Steve has persuaded me that searching for signs of his great-grandmother can wait another week or so.
“OK,” says Steve, taking a deep breath and looking down at the map and then up at the street. We're standing outside of our hotel.
It is Week Two of our honeymoon and we are finally getting down to business. Steve has purchased the map from a street vendor and after a quick prayer, we are setting out in search of history.
Most people who visit Gibraltar are in search of history, to a greater or lesser degree. And the search takes them to the usual tourist places. There is a museum, a military heritage centre and a one-hundred tonne Victorian gun that commemorates the spot where Admiral Nelson's body was brought ashore from the H.M.S. Victory for burial. And then there is the Rock itself with its tame apes roaming around near the top. The story goes that the British believed that if the apes ever disappeared, their empire would come to an end. But despite that the empire did come to an end, there is still the British presence everywhere, including cosy pubs, red telephone boxes and the fact that the currency is in pounds.
Another British legacy is seventy kilometres of siege tunnels in the Rock, dug out by British soldiers and used in the late 1700's as well as during World War II. Only a small portion is open to the public but now that Steve has come a little bit back down to earth, he says he'd like to check it out.
“Well, I just have a hard time imagining your great-grandmother crawling through siege tunnels.”
“I didn't mean we'd find anything about her, silly,” says Steve shaking his head and grinning. His attention is back on the map. “Oh, and the Moorish castle. That would be cool!”
I roll my eyes.
“She might have gone to the Moorish castle,” says Steve defensively.
“It's a good thing that one of us has taken the time to actually read her diary,” I say, taking his arm. “Do you even know what her name was?”
“Sure, Elsie Lineman.”
“That was her married name. She wasn't Elsie Lineman when she came here. She was Elsie Banks. And she was only here two days after which she got on a ship and continued on to Zanzibar. She stayed there quite awhile before going to Africa. At Mombasa she took a train into the interior until she arrived at Lake Victoria. Kisumu, I think.”
“Wow, you know all the details.”
“Unfortunately, the diary is not detailed. It's mostly just a record of dates and locations, not an actual description of day-to-day life, although there are occasional remarks. So, we'll have to fill in most of the blanks.”
Steve groans and sits down on the steps going up to the hotel.
“That’s the problem, filling in the blanks. You know, back in Canada, it sounded right. It actually sounded possible.”
I sit down beside him.
“But now that we're here . . .” Steve continues, looking around. “I don't even know where to begin. Grandpa wants us to take care of any unfinished business, but how can we find out what someone did over a hundred years ago, especially since she only stayed two days? Maybe there is no unfinished business. Maybe we should just pack up and move onto Africa.”
I shake my head.
“If we do that, we'll end up doing that everywhere we go. We have to get this right and then move on.”
“Yeah, it’s true. But where do we start?”
“Let's try to think about it from her perspective. If it were me, I'd be concerned about finding a place to stay.”
“Yeah,” says Steve. “You probably wouldn't be dashing off to the Moorish castle, eh?”
“I think we need to find out if any of the hotels around here are over a hundred years old,” I say.
We could find a place with internet access, get on our laptop and look up all the hotels in the area, but Gibraltar is small enough that we decide we'll just walk around and if any of the hotels look old, we'll go inside and try to find out how old. Our own hotel is too clean and bright to be a possibility.
We quickly discover a pattern. The smaller hotels are older. The bigger hotels are new, although when we go into the lobbies and talk to the people at the front desk, we find out that some of them have been rebuilt on top of older buildings.
There is only one, The Catalan, that is over a hundred years old and still in the original building. It's a 17-room hotel that's made of stone that looks like it came from the Rock. We talk to the young woman behind the counter. She is a daughter of the owner. The hotel has been in her family for as long as she knows, but if we are interested in history, we should really talk to her grandfather. He has a room in the hotel, but is having a rest now. We ask if it's OK if we come back later and she says it's fine.
We're now on Main Street which is the heart of Gibraltar. It's a blend of British, Spanish and Arabic architecture. Steve chooses a pub for us and we go into the cool interior. Although it's autumn, the bright sun and all the walking has warmed us up. We each order a pint of beer and the traditional fish-and-chips.
“The thing is, just because it's the oldest one here doesn't mean it's the one my great-grandmother stayed at,” says Steve.
“I know,” I say. “It's just a possibility. Kind of like treasure under the walls of Jerusalem.”
We both smile. We got carried away once and thought that we had figured out where something valuable might be buried.
After lunch we return to The Catalan. The young woman is still behind the counter and she points at glass doors in the back of the hotel. They lead to a small garden.
“He's out there,” she says. “I told him he might have visitors.”
Outside, there is a patio with large pots of flowers. Small trees grow around the outer edges of the walled-in area. White metal chairs are arranged in groups of two or three. A man with white hair is seated on one of the chairs.
“Hi,” says Steve, as we join him. “I'm Steve Lineman and this is my wife, Ginny.”
“Hello, there,” says the man, smiling. “What can I do for you, children?” He waves for us to sit down and join him.
“This may sound crazy,” says Steve, once we’re settled. “But we're traveling in the footsteps of my great-grandmother.”
“What a lovely thing to do,” says the man, approvingly.
“She was a missionary and she visited here in 1906,” continues Steve. “She only stayed here for two days. But we're curious because she wasn't supposed to get off here and yet, according to her diary, something made her disembark.”
“God works in mysterious ways,” says the man.
“So true,” says Steve. “Anyway, we'd like to know more about why she stopped and what happened.”
“1906, you say?”
“Of course, I wasn't around then,” says the man with a twinkle in his eye.
“Of course!” says Steve quickly. “We were just wondering if maybe she stayed here. You have the oldest hotel.”
“It's the oldest hotel that is still in its original building,” the man says, nodding. “But, of course, everything around here has a long history.”
“Do you have records of who stayed here?” I ask.
The man nods.
“That we do,” he says. “Don't know if they go back that far though.”
His granddaughter comes out into the garden to see if we need anything and the man asks if she can bring us some tea.
“My wife organized all the filing cabinets when she was alive,” he says. “She enjoyed that sort of thing. But if your great-grandmother came in 1906, that would be in my father's day. I do recall seeing a guestbook when I was a young lad, so if it's still about, it could be helpful.”
It's not long before his granddaughter returns with a pot of tea and plate of chocolate digestive biscuits on a tray and then hurries back to help someone at the front desk. I pour the tea into the china cups.
As we're sipping we continue to talk. Despite the Spanish name of the hotel, the elderly man is British through and through. He has a British accent even though he tells us that he's only been to England twice. But Britain grants citizenship to all Gibraltarians.
After the tea, we go back inside and the man leads us into a back room. It's dark and it only has a single light bulb for the whole room. But it has rows and rows of filing cabinets. The man goes to the first one and opens it up.
He pulls out a thick leather guestbook and turns to the first page.
“1898!” he says, turning to us. “We're in luck!”
It doesn't take long to find the guestbook that has 1906 and since we know the exact date that Steve's great-grandmother arrived, it takes us only minutes to find out she didn't stay at The Catalan. However, it's obvious that the ship she arrived on brought many guests to The Catalan that day.
On an impulse, I pull a small notebook out of my purse and quickly write down all the names of the people that checked in to the hotel that day. It may be useful.
“Well,” says the man, as we return to the small lobby and have a seat on some wicker chairs. “There's also the possibility that she stayed at a pensionne.”
“What's a pensionne?” I ask.
“Similar to a hotel, but more like a bed-and-breakfast,” says the man. “It was very common in those days. An English widow might have a large house and she would have guests and there would be meals. Travellers often stayed at pensionnes when they went abroad.”
“I guess they aren't around anymore?” says Steve.
“No,” says the man. “At least not that I know of. It's all hotels nowadays.”
Steve looks at me. How are we going to carry on with this investigation?
“Well, thank you for your time,” Steve leans over to shake the man's hand before standing up.
“I was happy to help,” says the man. “Although I don't think I was much help. There's only one thing I can think that you might do.”
Steve sits down again.
“There's a lady I know here, a friend of my late wife's. Although, she was much older than my wife. So I don't even know if she's still alive. But she might be able to help you. She lived here all her life, married a British officer. It's possible she may be able to tell you more.”
The man calls for his granddaughter to bring him over some hotel stationary, and on it he carefully writes a name, Elinor Shaw.
“I don't know the exact address, but she lives in a senior's apartment up near the hospital. If you can't find her in the phonebook, just ask at the hospital. It's the kind of apartment where they offer nursing care.”
We nod and stand up, thanking him again. When we head out, we're standing in a tiny parking lot outside of the hotel. The bigger hotels have a taxi or two sitting around but this one just has a few regular cars.
In any case, it's too late to go asking at the hospital about Mrs. Shaw.
Steve pulls me closer and we end up in each other's
arms in a deep kiss. No problem. We can find other ways to spend our evening.
don't know why I'm in a hurry,” says Steve the next morning. He's throwing on a white t-shirt and a pair of khaki pants. “There's no reason whatsoever to think that Mrs. Elinor Shaw is going to be able to help us. We don't even know if she's still alive.”
I'm in front of the mirror of the dresser experimenting with my hair. It would be nice if I could do something a little more sophisticated with it, something that says Mrs. Ginny Lineman, married woman. But I'm helpless with things like that. My long brown hair is always loose unless I pull it into a simple ponytail. I give up trying to come up with something new and just run a brush through it.
“Yeah, I know,” I say turning to him. “But it's all we have.”
Steve takes my hand as we leave the room and ride the elevator down to street level.
The first thing is a quick breakfast of coffee and croissants at one of the outdoor cafés. Then Steve insists on buying me a gorgeous red silk scarf. I put it on right away and it's a stunning contrast to my simple white dress and sandals. Then we're off to the hospital.
The hospital is in the north and we're in the south, but everything in Gibraltar is within walking distance. We check our map and choose a path that goes along the harbour where all the ships are and which should take us straight to the hospital.
The harbour is busy. There are a lot of sailboats mixed in with the larger fishing boats and the tankers. The whole area along the waterfront is built up so it's slow going as we check out everything, including an old cannon on display.
Finally, the map and our own brilliance tells us that we have arrived at the Gibraltar General Hospital. It is a bright white building with blue columns and windows that reflect the sparkling waters.
The interior of the hospital is cheerful with walls painted bright blue and colourful paintings hanging.
There is a kiosk that looks like it is for people who need information. Without going into great detail, we tell the lady behind it that we want to visit with Mrs. Elinor Shaw and we were told she lives in an apartment nearby that offers nursing care.
The lady smiles and nods.
“The one you're probably thinking of is just on the other side of the ambulance bay.”
We turn to go back out. But a thought occurs to me.
“An elderly gentleman told us we should talk with her to learn more about Gibraltar. But he also said she was older than him and he hadn't kept in touch with her.”
“Ahhh,” says the lady. “You don't know if she's actually still alive.”
“Exactly,” I say.
“Well, that's something I can easily verify for you,” says the lady, swivelling her chair over to a computer monitor. “Elinor Shaw?” she says.
The lady types in the name and then tries a few variations of it when nothing shows up.
“No, kids,” she says finally. “I'm afraid there is no Elinor Shaw in the system. All of the residents of the seniors' building are in our database. Often they end up here at the hospital near the end. But there's no one here or there that has a name close to Elinor Shaw.”
“Oh, great!” says Steve, shaking his head.
I know how he feels. Our one lead.
“You said you wanted to know a little more history about the place?” says the lady.
“But why did you want to talk to someone? There are plenty of books about Gibraltar.”
“True,” says Steve, leaning on the counter of the kiosk. “But we're looking for some info that might not be in the books.”
He tells her about his great-grandmother who was with the British Empire Mission Society and how his grandfather wants us to follow her steps and see if there's anything we can do to finish off what she started. So that's why we're in Gibraltar for our honeymoon.
“Not too many honeymooners come to Gibraltar to start a revival,” says the lady, smiling.
“Well, not a revival,” says Steve. “Just more like unfinished business. That's what Grandpa calls it.”
The lady looks thoughtful.
“You have me interested,” she says. “I'm a Christian myself.”
We nod. I kind of thought she might be since she didn't look at us like we were two lunatics.
“You say that your grandfather wants to you to finish up what she started?”
Again, we nod.
“When did she come here?”
“1906,” says Steve.
The lady whistles.
“That's a long time ago. Elinor Shaw wouldn't have been able to help you.”
“Well, we were just hoping to learn more . . .”
The lady interrupts Steve.
“It seems to me you should pickup where she left off. What I mean is, when did she give up the missionary work?”
Steve turns to me. He's never even looked at the diary.
“She got married in 1931,” I say.
“So, if you're looking for some unfinished business, that might be a good place to start. Maybe she would have come back here for a visit if she hadn't gotten married. 1931! That's where you have to start!”
This is a brand-new idea.
Steve is nodding slowly.
“OK,” he says. “I can see that. The unfinished business was in 1931, not 1906.”
“So then, who do we talk to?” I say.
The lady is back at her computer.
“That's seventy-nine years ago,” she says. “Our oldest resident here at the hospital is . . . ninety-eight. Mrs. Edythe Fleming.” The lady grabs a piece of paper and does some quick subtraction. “She would have been . . . nineteen in 1931. That would work!” She looks up at us.
“That’s great!” I say.
“Can we visit her?” asks Steve.
“That's something I'd have to look into,” says the lady. “Why don't you kids go get a coffee and I'll see what I can do.”
We agree to come back in a half hour and take the elevator up a level to the public cafeteria.
Thirty minutes later there's good news. Not only is Mrs. Edythe Fleming available to talk to us, she's thrilled that someone's come to visit her. The lady at the information kiosk calls a healthcare worker to show us up.
The young woman who takes us up on the elevator tells us a little about Mrs. Fleming. Being the oldest resident, she's a bit of a celebrity. She had three children, all of whom are dead now. Her grandchildren are grown up and living in England or Spain.
We are led down a long hallway to a room that has two patients. Mrs. Fleming is in a wheelchair in front of a window that looks out on the harbour. Her condition is obviously frail, but her eyes are bright as the healthcare worker leads us into the room and arranges two chairs in front of Mrs. Fleming.
“Hi!” says Steve. “I'm Steven Lineman. This is my wife, Ginny.”
Mrs. Fleming nods. She is dressed in a floral robe and her hair is up in a white bun.
“Nice to meet you, dears,” she says. “I was told you're interested in history. I guess I'm a bit of history around here!”
We all laugh.
Steve explains why we're visiting and Mrs. Fleming is so interested that he ends up telling her the story of how we met and how we got together. He finishes off with that idea that maybe we're not looking for something in 1906 but for something in 1931.
Mrs. Fleming nods.
“Yes, that sounds possible. 1931 . . .” She thinks about this. “Let's see, I would have been nineteen that year. Those were the days when the British navy ruled the seas. We had so many sailors and officers here in Gibraltar. I married one of them,” she says smiling at the memory and for a moment, I can imagine her as a young woman. “But that wasn't until 1933. Mostly what I remember was how all the ships going to India passed this way. India belonged to Britain then.”
Steve and I nod.
“So many women who had to say good-bye to their children.” Mrs. Fleming shakes her head.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Well, most of the people heading out on the ships to India were part of the ruling class. The husband and wife would go out but they would leave their children behind at boarding schools in England. It made me so sad. Once I found a woman weeping in the gardens. They had said good-bye to their children a few days earlier and by the time they got here they were missing them and they still had the long voyage to go and maybe it would be a year or so before they'd see their children again. Her husband was keeping a stiff upper lip, but the pain was almost unbearable for both of them.”
“That's so sad,” I say.
Mrs. Fleming nods.
“I remember thinking how when I got married I'd never leave my children. And now, here I am, all alone in the end.”
Steve and I are wide-eyed.
“But the important thing is, I was able to be with them when they were children,” she says, consoling herself. “That's really the most important time, I think. When they get older they don't need you the same way.”
We nod at this wisdom.
“At least I never had to weep in the gardens,” says Mrs. Fleming. “Although, there were a few times I walked through there with a heavy heart. But that's all far in the past now.”
“When you say gardens, do you mean the Botanic Gardens?” I say. I've noticed it on the map.
“Yes,” says Mrs. Fleming. “Of course, it wasn't a tourist attraction like it is now. It was just there for the Gibraltarians. I miss going there. I used to go there all the time to walk and think. Sometimes I would wonder if it was at all like the Garden of Gethsemane. It seemed all the more so when I came across the woman weeping there. That was about when I was nineteen.”
“I guess you never found out what happened to her?” I say.
Mrs. Fleming shakes her head.
“After she had her crying spell, I took her to a little tea-shop on Main Street. It gave her time to recover before returning back to the ship and her husband. She had an unusual name though. I remember that much. Drusilla. She said it was a medieval name. Her last name was unusual too. Hollingberry. Isn't that an interesting name? Drusilla Hollingberry? I always sort of hoped I'd meet her again. Perhaps if your great-grandmother had met her, she would have been able to give her some real words of wisdom. Alas, I was too young to have any wisdom at the time.”
We all smile.
“I think a cup of tea was a nice thing to do,” I say.
“Thank you, dear,” says Mrs. Fleming. “It was the only thing I could think of doing at the time.”
“When I was in England, everyone drank tea when they were upset,” I say. “Of course, they drank it when they weren't upset too.”
Mrs. Fleming laughs.
“It's the solution to everything,” she agrees.
A nurse comes in and tells us that we'd better think about heading out. I think she doesn't want Mrs. Fleming to get too tired.
“It's been lovely talking with you,” says Mrs. Fleming.
Steve gives her hand a gentle shake and I kiss her on the cheek. She was so kind to talk to us, two strangers.
“Did we learn anything?” asks Steve, taking my hand on the elevator ride back down.
“I dunno,” I say. “I guess not.”
Steve sighs as the door opens on the main floor.
“Then where do we go from here?”
“Lunch?” I suggest.
We're walking past the kiosk where the lady who helped us was, but now there's a different woman behind the counter.
We walk back to Main Street and have lunch at a Spanish restaurant.
“Why don't we check out the Botanic Gardens?” I say afterward.
“Can't think of anything else to do,” he says. “Unless you want to go back to the room . . .”
I shake my head, grinning.
“This may be the only time we're here. I want to see everything. Maybe even the Moorish castle.”
“Don't forget the siege tunnels,” says Steve.
It's a short walk from Main Street to the gardens and everything is paved in charming red stone. Outside of the gardens is a monument to some notable named General Eliot. There are some cannons encircling the pillar. The metal gates of the gardens are open and we go inside.
I can understand why Mrs. Fleming misses coming here. It's a gorgeous garden, six hectares according to our tourists' map, filled with exotic plants in picturesque arrangements. There are two different wedding parties taking photos. Steve pulls a small digital camera out of his pocket and has the panache to ask someone in one of the parties to take our photo in front of some large pink flowers.
After strolling through the gardens, we're tired enough to sit down on one of the stone benches.
“I wonder if this is where the lady was crying?” I say looking around. “What was her name?”
“Denise, no, Drusilla, Hollingberry wasn't it?”
“That name sounds familiar,” I say. I thought so at the time when Mrs. Fleming said it. “I've heard it somewhere recently.”
“I haven't,” says Steve.
“That's it!” I say, reaching into my purse for my notebook. “Look at this!”
I'm looking at the page where I've written down the names of the people who checked in to The Catalan on the same day Steve's great-grandmother arrived here. I point.
“David Hollingberry,” Steve reads. “Do you think they're related?”
“Well,” I say, “she was a Hollingberry because she got married. But maybe this man is related to her husband.”
“Maybe he is her husband.”
“There's a twenty-five-year difference between the two visits though,” I say, looking down at the names. “But it's something. I think we should go visit Mrs. Fleming again.”
“Me too,” says Steve. “Though I don't really know why. It's just, she's the only one we can talk to at this point.”
“I kind of feel like there's more she can tell us,” I say.
e call the hospital in the morning and find out that visiting hours aren't until one. So Steve gets to see his Moorish castle. There was a time when the Arabs ruled all of Spain so there are still structures from that time.
It's up on a hill, which is a bit of a hike, but worth it for the view. I can see Africa a lot more clearly than from our balcony.
The Moorish castle is actually made up of many buildings, though the one that everyone can see from down below is the Tower of Homage. We take one of the tours of the whole area and Steve actually listens. I remember the days when a tour would mean sarcastic comments.
We stop at a little florist's shop on the way to the hospital and pick up an arrangement for Mrs. Fleming.
There doesn't seem to be any need to check-in with anyone when we arrive, so we go straight up to her room. The door is open so we cautiously enter.
Today Mrs. Fleming is sitting up in her bed knitting.
“Well, hello!” she says beaming. “I'm so glad you came back! And look at the beautiful flowers!”
We chat for a bit about our day and the weather outside and what Mrs. Fleming is knitting (something called an afghan). Then we get back to the topic of Drusilla Hollingberry.
“Is it possible her husband's name was David?” I ask.
“David Hollingberry?” Mrs. Fleming's mind is going back through the mists of time and she emerges from it triumphant. “Yes! I do believe it was! She said David, at one point. How did you find out?”
I explain how I had jotted down the names of the people who checked in to The Catalan on the day that Steve's great-grandmother arrived in Gibraltar.
“Is it possible it was the same man?” says Steve looking at me and then at Mrs. Fleming. “That means that he visited Gibraltar twenty-five years before you met his wife in the Botanic Gardens.”
“Quite possible,” says Mrs. Fleming. “From what Drusilla said, her husband had been serving in India for quite some time. They had met on one of his return visits to London, married and gone to India together. Out there they had had two children. Then the time came to put the children in school in England.”
“Didn't they have schools in India?” I ask.
“Well, dear, in those days your education made all the difference for your future career. Anyone who could, sent their sons to the best schools in England to ensure their future. It wasn't so critical with girls, of course. But the Hollingberrys had sons.”
Mrs. Fleming shakes her head as she recalls those days.
“Drusilla told me she had managed to hold herself together when she was saying good-bye to her sons but had just fallen to pieces at Gibraltar. Knowing that they were passing through the Strait and not turning back broke her heart.”
“That's so sad,” I say. I think I said that yesterday.
“I've been giving it some thought since you visited me and I wish that I'd been able to provide her with some comforting words. All I came up with at the time was a suggestion to write a letter to her boys and tell them how much she loved them.”
“That sounds like good advice,” I say.
Mrs. Fleming nods.
“She said she'd do it and post it back to Britain as soon as they arrived in India. I walked her to her ship and saw her off. It had an unusual name too, the Bonaventure. Maybe it wasn't British, I don't really know . . .”
A nurse comes in for Mrs. Fleming. She is carrying a stethoscope as well as something to check her blood pressure with.
“Well, we'll leave you then,” says Steve, standing up.
“I did so enjoy talking,” says Mrs. Fleming. “And thank you for the lovely flowers!”
We take the elevator back down and out into the bright day.
“I think that's pretty much it for that,” says Steve, sighing and surveying the harbour without seeing it. “Should we head back to Toronto and tell Grandpa we have no clue why we came to Gibraltar?”
“Silly!” I say punching his arm, which is an excuse for him to confiscate my whole arm and after a brief tussle, we end up walking along by the water with our arms around each other.
“Why? What do you suggest we do?”
“Let's go to the museum,” I say. “They probably have a lot of history.”
“Do you think they're going to have an exhibit commemorating Elsie Lineman's visit to the Gibraltar?”
“Elsie Banks,” I say. “And I don't think the whole thing's been a failure. Yet.”
We get to the museum and find that it's closing in an hour. They would still let us in, but Steve and I agree that we'll come back the next day and just go find a good place for dinner. We're tired after a day of walking around all of Gibraltar. In fact, Steve's so tired that when we return to the room, he actually wants to use the bed to sleep in. That's a first. I guess that's what happens when you've been married awhile.
We're there the next morning when the museum opens at ten.
As the kids of archaeologists, we know our way around museums. In fact, I feel guilty if I don't read every placard in front of every exhibit. We move through the rooms and learn about prehistoric Gibraltar, Gibraltar under the Arabs, Military Gibraltar, as well as about the continuing debate on whether Gibraltar is Spanish or English. But, of course, there is no exhibit commemorating the visit of Elsie Lineman, I mean Elsie Banks, in 1906. There is no evidence whatsoever that a representative of the British Empire Missionary Society ever visited Gibraltar.
We stop in the gift shop on our way out, thinking that maybe we'll find some cool gifts for our dads. I buy a book about the Neanderthals called, The Humans Who Went Extinct. Ever since we visited that cave in Moravia, Dad has kept up with the latest in studies about early man. Steve picks out a technical book for his dad about Pleistocene ecological change and the evolution of bird migration systems. It's based on a recent conference held here. I think he's being funny. For Glen, his younger brother, he chooses a book about shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. His older brother, Liam, gets a book about the military history of Gibraltar.
We go back to the hotel with our purchases. I think Steve also has other plans, sort of to make up for last night. But we're both so hungry we end up calling for room service and when that's done, Steve gets distracted by the books he's bought, the one about the military in particular. It's full of information about those siege tunnels that we still have to visit.
I flip through my purchase, The Humans Who Went Extinct, and spend an hour or so reading about why the Neanderthals died out. By this time, Steve is going through the book about shipwrecks.
“Hey, what was the name of that ship?” he says suddenly, just as I'm starting to think that although it seems wrong to watch TV on a honeymoon, I might switch it on.
“What ship?” I say, putting down the remote. I was trying to figure out where the on button was.
“The one Mrs. Fleming mentioned. The one that that lady Drusilla and her husband were on.”
“Oh, that one.” I think. “I dunno. Bon Voyage? Good Adventure? Something like that.”
“Was it Bonaventure?”
“Yes, that's it. Why?”
“Because it says here that in 1931, the H.M.S. Bonaventure went down in the middle of the Mediterranean.”
“That was the year . . .”
“I know,” says Steve nodding. “Listen to this. No survivors. The ship was on its way to India when it was caught in a sudden and particularly vicious storm. No one is exactly sure at what point it sank but it was a day past Gibraltar, its last port before continuing to Alexandria.”
We look at each other. I feel cold chills. For a moment or two, we don't speak.
“That means David and Drusilla Hollingberry never made it to India,” I say. “Their poor sons!”
“They'd be orphans.”
“I wonder what happened to them?” I ask, thinking of the two little boys at school getting such awful news. I mean, they'd be living at the school, but there would always be the knowledge that they would never see their parents again.
“They'd be pretty old now if they were still alive.”
“Let's see, 1931. That's seventy-nine years ago. They'd be, maybe, eighty-five, or so.”
“I doubt they're alive.”
“One thing's for sure,” I say. “They never got that letter from their mom saying how much she loved them.”
The same thought occurs to us.
“Is that it?” says Steve. “Was that my great-grandmother's unfinished business?”
“I think it is!” It feels like a revelation. You know, in that kind of way where you just know it’s true.
“If Elsie Banks had come back here, she would have been the one to meet Drusilla in the garden.”
“It's a stretch,” says Steve.
“Maybe,” I say. “If we just look at it and keep God out of it. But it sounds to me like Mrs. Fleming met Drusilla instead. But she didn't know the ship sank, so she never passed the message on to Drusilla's sons that their mother loved them and missed them.”
“Yeah, it feels right.”
“So I guess it's up to us to find out if the sons of David and Drusilla Hollingberry are still alive. How are we going to do it?”
“This isn't 1931 anymore, Ginny. We've got the internet.”
Even the library in Gibraltar is a historic site. It's called the Garrison Library and it dates back to 1793. It has thirty-five thousand books, many of them rare and out-of-print, but for our purposes, it also has internet access.
We end up using a combination of old and new to track down the Hollingberry sons. There is a directory of India personal in 1929 which gives a brief biography of each servant of the Empire. Depending on how important the person is, the biographies vary in size. David Hollingberry's is brief. He is from Brighton, he has a wife, Drusilla, and two sons, David and Edward. He works in the Department of Education in India and has served there since 1906.
“You know,” I say. “It makes sense. He'd be a young man going out to India. Your great-grandmother would be a young woman. They'd probably talk on the deck, or something. Then if she came back here twenty-five years later and discovered his wife weeping in the garden, she'd take a special interest in her.”
“Yes, I think there must have been a connection,” Steve agrees.
Now that we have the names, it's incredibly easy to find out that there's a David Hollingberry living in Brighton. I write the address in my notebook.
We look at each other.
“Next step, England,” says Steve.
There is a small airport in Gibraltar that we fly out of. But you don't fly directly to Brighton. You fly to London and then take a train or a bus from there. Pearson International Airport in Toronto is cosy compared to Heathrow. But at least we don't have to go through customs since Gibraltar is considered part of England.
For the rest of our journey we opt for the train. It seems more scenic and romantic. And it doesn't disappoint us. This is my second time in England, but the train is a first. Something about it makes you want to drink tea and solve Agatha Christie mysteries.
Like Gibraltar, everything in Brighton is close together and after arriving at the train station we take a short cab ride (£3) to a hotel by the sea. And like Gibraltar, Brighton is for the tourist.
But with the awareness that the man we want to see might be extremely old, we decide any sightseeing will be done after we deliver our message.
Before we left Gibraltar, we visited with Mrs. Fleming one more time. She was thrilled at the way we'd put the pieces together, although she was horrified at the news that Drusilla's ship sank a day after she'd had tea with her. She said that the sinking of the H.M.S. Bonaventure was probably big news at the time, but as a nineteen-year-old, she had lived with her head in the clouds. She wholeheartedly supported our plan to find one or both of Drusilla's sons and tell them that their mother was going to write a letter to each of them, but if she had the time to do it, it went down with the ship.
The man at the front desk of our hotel looks at the address on the piece of paper and says it's inland, on the outskirts of the town. But it's walkable if we just follow Upper Bedford Street.
The further we move from the water, the more residential everything becomes. There are still the quaint English pubs, but there are also a lot of apartment buildings and all the things that go along with everyday living, a little fruit market, a church, a bingo hall.
We get a little confused at one point because Upper Bedford Street suddenly turns into Freshfield Road, but some helpful lady pushing a stroller (I mean, pram) points out to us that the address we're looking for is right at the intersection.
It's a small brick apartment building only four stories high.
Between the double doors of the entrance to the apartment is a directory and a phone to call the person you're visiting so they can buzz you in. D. Hollingberry is in apartment 108 but when we call there is no answer.
“You wouldn't think a man that age would get out much,” I say.
“Maybe he isn't out,” says Steve as we go back outside. “Maybe he just didn't hear the phone.” Instead of going down the path back to the street, Steve starts circling the apartment.
“Where are you going?” I say.
“He lives on the ground floor.”
I see where he's going with this. Each apartment has a tiny balcony, even the ones on ground level. As we round the corner of the building, there is an elderly man sitting on a plastic chair in his small space.
“Mr. Hollingberry?” says Steve, leaning on the railing. The man is startled.
“I'm Steve Lineman and this is my wife, Ginny,” he says.
The man nods.
“We're looking for David Hollingberry.”
“I'm Edward Hollingberry,” says the man. “David is my brother.”
Steve and I look at each other. We've found them both!
“We have an interesting story about your mother that we thought you'd be, well, interested in,” says Steve.
Edward Hollingberry's face seems to harden.
“My mother died over seventy-five years ago,” he says.
“Yes,” says Steve. “On the H.M.S. Bonaventure.”
His eyebrows go up.
“We just came from Gibraltar,” says Steve. “We were honeymooning there. We met a lady who knew your mother.”
“Perhaps you should come inside,” says Edward Hollingberry. The hardened face has softened slightly. “David might like to hear about our mother.”
Steve, being the adventurous one, hops over the railing. I would have gone back to the front entrance. It takes a little more time and some help from him for me to get over the railing.
The apartment is dim inside compared to the bright autumn day. But as soon as my eyes get adjusted, I see that the room is decorated with an India theme. Clearly the Hollingberry boys never forgot the land of their birth.
Edward Hollingberry knocks gently on a bedroom door. A few moments later, the door is opened.
“These two young people have a story about Mother,” says Edward. David Hollingberry turns to stare at us
“Hello,” says Steve, introducing us again. We sit down on a couch and Steve explains again that we've just come from Gibraltar.
He tells the story of how we met Mrs. Fleming, but before he can get to the bit about Drusilla Hollingberry, David interrupts him to ask him why we were visiting a woman we'd never met before. So Steve goes back even further, to how his grandfather has a mother who was a missionary. She gave up her missionary work to marry and have him and now we're following her path to see whether she left behind any unfinished business. Then he tells how we found out that his great-grandmother shared a ship with David Hollingberry back in 1906.
The brothers look at each other.
“That would have been Father's first trip out,” says David.
So now we're back to Mrs. Fleming. The two men lean forward when we tell them that Edythe Fleming, a nineteen-year-old native of Gibraltar, met their weeping mother in the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens.
When we tell them why she was weeping, the men look at each other again. For a moment, neither of them can speak.
“We never knew,” says David finally.
“We were so young,” says Edward. “All we knew was that she was leaving us in England, a place that was no home for us, and going back to India without us.”
“She never broke down in front of you?” I ask.
David and Edward shake their heads.
“She did what Father did,” says David. “She kept the stiff upper lip that was expected of her. I don't think she even kissed us. We had so many kisses in India and then she just left us in England. Forever.”
My eyes are starting to water.
“If we had received that letter from her, we might have understood a little bit better that it hurt her to be apart from us. We didn't know,” says Edward.
At this point, I'm in tears at the thought of those two little boys left as orphans in England, not knowing how much their mother loved them.
David and Edward are also looking as if they might cry. David pulls a handkerchief out of a pocket and blows his nose. Edward has his head down and one hand over his face.
Only Steve isn't about to sob.
At this point he gets up and does exactly the right thing to do when everyone in a room in England is on the verge of weeping.
He goes to the kitchen, puts the kettle on and makes us all a pot of tea.
After the tea, we all feel better.
Now the Hollingberry brothers are chatting cheerfully about “Mother” and “Father” and the early days when they were a family in India. They have both been transported back to a childhood of marbles and toy trains in a land of tropical plants and tigers. In fact, their father shot a tiger once and the skin was on the floor of their home in India.
“Whatever happened to it?” Edward asks David.
“We didn't get everything,” says David. “They shipped most of it back to us, but remember that old black wardrobe of Mother's?”
“It never made it back.”
“No, it didn't, did it?”
But the Hollingberrys show us some of the things that did make it back, including their photo albums.
The two small boys are pictured on the back of an elephant; playing outside on the veranda of their large white home; having fun with a tame monkey; riding in some kind of a rickshaw; reading books; playing marbles with a native servant; having a battle with their toy soldiers.
“Your mother must have loved you a lot,” I say. “She took so many pictures of you!”
“I never thought about it that way,” says Edward. He looks back at the album. “They're all of us, aren't they?”
When the time comes for us to leave, both David and Edward warmly shake our hands and thank us for coming all this way.
“We were glad to do it,” says Steve.
“You can't imagine how it's changed, well,” says Edward, “everything.”
“But now we know,” says Edward. “And it's such a relief.”
I understand. They've been living all their lives with this idea that their mother didn't love them. And now they know the truth.
This time, Steve and I leave the apartment by the door, down the hallway and out through the double glass doors.
Steve takes my hand as we go back down the path to the street.
“I think that was the unfinished business of Gibraltar,” he says.
“I think so too,” I say. It's been bittersweet but I was glad to be able to bring some peace to the Hollingberry brothers.
“And it was an unforgettable honeymoon,” I add.
Steve looks at me with a big grin.
“The honeymoon isn't over!”
lsie Banks traveled to Zanzibar by ship in 1906. A hundred and four years later, we are taking a plane.
From what I can gather, she arrived in Zanzibar and spent a month there before sailing to Mombasa. From Mombasa she took the recently constructed Uganda Railway to Kisumu, right on Lake Victoria. But there is no reason given for why she went to Zanzibar or into the interior of Africa.
Steve is reading about an earlier missionary who made a similar journey, David Livingstone. David Livingstone started his career as a missionary, but as time progressed, his focus changed to looking for the source of the Nile. Men before him had suggested various lakes. He set out to determine whether it was the one of the lakes suggested, or maybe even a different one further south.
Livingstone traveled in the days before the train and had to organize porters and supplies, and prepare for every contingency, including malaria and cannibals. On the plane, Steve reads parts of the book out loud to me and acts as if he's greatly disappointed that we won't be facing the same challenges.
“Any clues as to why Elsie might have gone there?” I ask.
“Well, this is all about fifty years before her, but Africa was still largely unknown to outsiders,” says Steve. “The explorers came first and then the missionaries. That paved the way for the British to go in and create what they called Protectorates. That's how it was when my great-grandmother went.”
“So, it was just a case of telling the natives about Jesus?”
Steve shakes his head as he flips back to a chapter near the beginning of the book.
“No, a lot of it was related to slavery. Slavery was illegal in the British Empire, but it wasn't outlawed anywhere else. The Arab slavers went into the interior of Africa and brought people out to the coast and then across to Zanzibar. Zanzibar was a thriving slave market, with the slaves being transported as far away as America. The missionaries were the ones who protested that. If the British took control of an area, usually the slave-trade in that area died out or was forced to go around the Protectorate. By the time my great-grandmother was in Zanzibar, the British were exerting enough control that slaving wasn't practised openly.”
“So, I wonder why your great-grandmother stayed there for a whole month?” I say.
“Maybe for the beaches,” says Steve grinning. “They're supposed to be amazing. I can't wait to check them out.”
I have to have mercy on him. He still thinks we're on our honeymoon.
While Steve reads his book, I have a guidebook for the area we're going to visit. Apparently, autumn in Zanzibar is a good time to visit, weather-wise. I was trying to find a hotel that was in the centre of the island since we have no idea where our investigations will take us. But knowing that Steve is interested in the beaches, I try to find something close to the water.
The Dhow Palace Hotel, I decide, is the best one for us. It emphasizes the history of Zanzibar in its description, saying that the hotel is full of artifacts. History is what we're looking for. It's located in an area called Stone Town, which is also supposed to be full of history. And, it's walking distance to the beach.
The airport turns out to be clean and modern. The rest of the island, not so much. But what it lacks in tidiness, it more than makes up for in atmosphere. This is my first trip to Africa. I'm used to the Middle East and Zanzibar is Arabic with an African beat.
The first thing I notice are the white coral stone buildings. The guidebook said I'd see a lot of those in this area.
The main roads are wide and paved, but give the impression of being narrow because of the number of pedestrians and the commerce going on along both sides of the street. Merchants are underneath umbrellas selling fruits and vegetables, most of which I don't recognize. The stores selling cloth and appliances and souvenirs are bigger and more permanent-looking, usually having rusting corrugated iron roofs to protect them from the sun. Here and there is a dilapidated coffee house filled with patrons, drinking, talking and playing chess. Bicycles and mopeds seem the preferred way to travel for the people not on foot.
I fall in love with the Dhow Palace Hotel right from the moment our taxi pulls up to the white building with the dark heavy wooden doors that look like they could protect a castle.
The lobby is a luxurious mix of red wood floors and white walls, Persian-style carpets and potted plants.
While Steve checks-in, I stroll into the courtyard in the centre of the hotel. It's like an oasis with its bright blue pool and more potted plants. I hope we get one of the rooms with ornate wooden balconies that overlook it. Steve joins me with a room key, putting his arm around my waist. He tells me a porter is taking our suitcases up to our room.
“Do you want to go up and rest a bit?” he asks. The sparkle in his eye tells me he may not be thinking of a nap.
He said once that I was the focused one, so I say, “I think we should get to it right away and start exploring.”
Steve sighs and shakes his head as we join hands and go back through the lobby to the busy street.
“I booked us in for a month,” says Steve. “That's how long Great-grandma stayed so I figured if God has a sense of balance, that's how long we should.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I say, looking around. There's so much colour and activity! We start walking down the narrow streets. Once we're off the main road, there are no cars, only the bicycles and mopeds weaving between the people. The people are African, but I can see a lot who look like they have Arab roots too.
That reminds me of something I wanted to tell Steve. I pull the guidebook out of my purse and flip through some pages.
“According to this,” I say, “about 97% of the population is Muslim.”
It's easy to tell. We can see the minarets of the mosques, so distinct in Eastern cities.
“But listen to this . . . Stone Town, where we are right now, is the most ethnically diverse area on the island. It even has an Anglican cathedral.”
“That's probably it over there,” says Steve pointing to a church-looking tower.
I look up.
“You're right.” I close the guidebook. “Maybe we should check it out. Your great-grandmother may have visited it.”
We get closer to the church and discover that it's called the Cathedral Church of Christ. There's a sign in front that says it was built on the site of the slave market. It's a beautiful old building built in the traditional European-style, making it look somewhat out-of-place in the African-Arabic blend of Zanzibar.
We've missed a tour by about twenty minutes, so I pull out my guidebook again.
“This church would have been here when your great-grandmother visited,” I say. “It was built in 1873.”
“But not when David Livingstone was here,” says Steve.
“Funny you should mention him,” I say. “It says here that inside the church there is a cross made from the tree that was over where his heart was buried in Chitambo.”
“I guess he died in Africa,” says Steve. “I haven't gotten to that part yet. What else is in there?”
“Well, the altar stands on the location where the whipping post in the slave market used to be.”
We continue exploring Stone Town.
We pass by Beit al-Ajaib, the House of Wonders. Its name comes from the time when it was the only building in Zanzibar to have electric lights.
Then we check out the Darajani Bazaar where you can buy pretty much everything. We got a glimpse of it when we arrived. There is fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, rice, t-shirts, old coins, every kind of item made of wood, embroidery, drums, dishes, radios, flip-flops, rows and rows of colourful fabrics hanging on wooden bars. I buy both my mother and my sister, Julia, a kanga, which is a bright piece of patterned cotton that the African women wear as skirts and wraps. Steve buys his mother a beautiful copper plate.
We return to the hotel and this time, we have a real nap in our room. We drift off to sleep in the ornate wooden canopied bed with its white sheets. Steve's final words are a mumbled comment about how much more comfortable it is than it was for David Livingstone.
That night, we eat at the roof-top restaurant. The city fades in comparison to the clear view we have of the Zanzibar Channel.
Steve orders us both the local specialty, pepper steak. He tries to persuade me that it's antelope steak but I just roll my eyes. I had a chance to read the menu over before the waiter came to take our order. It's a beef steak in spicy pepper sauce. From what I read in the guidebook, Zanzibar cuisine uses a lot of spices. It's even called the Spice Island.
Dinner is leisurely, as is everything that comes after it when we return to our room. Steve has switched off the air-conditioning and we're just enjoying the night air that blows off from the water.
He's sitting up in our bed, shirtless, hands behind his head and a pillow behind his back.
“What do you want to do tomorrow?” he says.
I try to make myself more comfortable, plumping some pillows and rearranging them behind my back. The wooden headrest is gorgeous, engraved with what looks like an Indian-style design, but it's not exactly comfortable leaning back on.
“I dunno,” I say. “Why do you think your great-grandmother stayed here for so long?”
“If I go by the book about David Livingstone, there were a lot of supplies you had to purchase before you went into Africa. I imagine it was a lot easier by the time she got here, but there would still be things she'd have to take along. Mosquito nets, certain medicines like quinine, clothing for the heat.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.” I reach for the guidebook and turn to the section on Stone Town.
“Here, I know what we'll do,” says Steve taking the book from me. He closes his eyes and stabs the top of a page. He opens his eyes. “The Old Fort,” he reads. “Want to do that tomorrow?”
“Sure,” I say, as he hands me back the book. I read the entry about the Old Fort. It was built around 1700 and the Arabs used it to defend themselves from the Portuguese. In the nineteenth century it was used as a prison and at the beginning of the twentieth century it was a railway depot. Now it's a place where you can go to learn about the culture of Zanzibar.
Learning about the culture of Zanzibar turns out to be a very hands-on experience.
We visit the Old Fort the next day and find that it's a busy stone structure hosting all sorts of activities. In one room there is a lesson in African drumming about to begin. Steve enthusiastically says he has to go to that. I say, “No way!” I'm either going to check out the henna painting or watch a lesson in Zanzibar cooking.
For a moment, we hesitate. We haven't been apart since we got married.
But then Steve gives me a long, intense kiss, just to make sure I don't forget him, and we agree to meet in the open-air theatre for the next live performance in a couple of hours.
I go into a room where there are ladies getting their hands painted in henna. It looks really cool and the designs are beautiful, but I'm not sure I want to sit still long enough to have anything done. So I pass onto the next room where an instructor is giving a talk on cooking with spices.
I'm a long way from having my own kitchen, but it's interesting to hear the way the African cuisine can take basic ingredients like rice and chickens and beans and just use spices to make it into something extraordinary.
After that I peek into Steve's drum lessons but he's so into it he doesn't even notice me.
There are shops I could look in and even a restaurant I could sit in, but I decide to go to the open-air theatre and just wait for Steve there.
There are a few groups of people sitting around, either waiting for the show to start or just hanging out.
I'm almost bordering on bored when a smiling man sits down next to me. He's about my age, an African, but not as dark as some of the others.
“Hi!” he says.
“Hello,” I say cautiously. He seems nice enough, but it occurs to me that I'm sitting in Zanzibar all by myself and I don't really know whether that's a safe thing to do or not.
“I'm Kafeel,” he says.
“I'm Ginny,” I say. “My husband is Steve. He's in the drumming lesson right now.”
Kafeel nods pleasantly. He doesn't seem bothered that I have a husband.
“Are you waiting to see the show?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say. “Do you know what it's about?”
Kafeel nods his head.
“It is the story of David Livingstone. The explorer.”
“Wow!” I say. “My husband is reading a book about him!”
“Then he should enjoy it very much,” says Kafeel. “I have heard they tell good stories.”
“Are you from Zanzibar?” I ask.
Kafeel shakes his head again.
“I am from Bagamoyo. It is just across the Channel.”
“I am sorry to be so forward,” says Kafeel. “You remind me very much of my sister. I have not seen her for a while and I miss her.”
I guess he notices my surprised look. I'm very pale and it's hard to imagine Kafeel having a biological sister who looks like me.
“Yes,” says Kafeel, nodding. “It is true. But my sister is very much like you. You see, it is because of my great-great-grandfather . . .”
Just then, Steve returns. He sits down on the other side of me and immediately puts his arm around my shoulders.
“This is Kafeel,” I say. “Kafeel, this is my husband, Steve.”
Kafeel reaches across me to shake Steve's hand.
“Very nice to meet you,” he says. The hand on my shoulder relaxes slightly as Steve shakes Kafeel's hand.
“How was your drumming lesson?” I ask.
“Great,” says Steve. “Now I just have to get a pair of congo drums.”
“I also play the drums. But the congo drums are too big to carry around. Bongo drums are good enough for me.”
As we've been talking, the theatre has been slowly filling up with people. There is talking among the audience until some actors appear on the grassy stage.
Although David Livingstone was a missionary, this whole play is about him looking for the source of the Nile. Apparently that's what he's really known for.
The whole play is in Swahili, which makes it hard to follow. I only know he's looking for the source of the Nile because at the beginning, the character playing Livingstone was holding up a large map and his finger started in Egypt and kept moving south as if looking for a starting point. The map comes out every now and then to show us where they are.
I gather that Livingstone hated slavery (the actors are good at facial expressions) but at some points in his life, was so sick that he had to be helped by the Arab slave traders. Even without understanding Swahili, I know that at the end David Livingstone dies of some horrible illness and is lovingly buried under a tree by the Africans around him.
“So what brings you to Zanzibar?” asks Kafeel, turning to us after the applause is over and the audience is leaving the theatre.
“We're actually looking for anything we can about my great-grandmother,” says Steve. “She came here as a missionary in 1906. We want to know more about her and why she came here.”
“What a coincidence!” says Kafeel. “I am here to look for information about my great-great-grandfather!”
We stand up and join the last few people who are exiting the theatre.
Kafeel asks us if we would like to go to a coffeehouse nearby that he has discovered. Now that I know he doesn't live in Zanzibar, I realize he must be lonely.
“Sure,” says Steve.
Kafeel leads us through the narrow streets.
We come to a coffeehouse that looks dilapidated on the outside but is surprisingly large and well furnished on the inside.
Steve comments on this to Kafeel.
“It is because of the evil eye,” he says. “A lot of people like to have a house that does not look nice on the outside even if it is beautiful on the inside. It protects them from the evil eye.”
“What is the evil eye, exactly?” says Steve.
Kafeel thinks for a moment.
“I think you could say it is envy.”
We take a table and when a waiter comes over, Kafeel orders something in Swahili.
“We can have coffee and some of the sweets, yes?” he says.
The waiter returns shortly with a large pot of coffee, some cups and a plate of cookies. The cookies look plain but are delicious, filled with flavour and spices. The coffee is strong and sweet and a lot like the kind you get in the Middle East.
“So, tell me about your great-grandmother,” says Kafeel.
Steve tells him all about our mission to travel everywhere Elsie Banks did and see if there's any unfinished business.
“Very interesting,” says Kafeel, says nodding. “You are a Christian, then?”
am Christian,” says Kafeel. “Most people here in Zanzibar are Muslim, but there are many Christians in Tanzania.”
“Why is that?” I ask.
“A lot of it has to do with people like David Livingstone,” says Steve.
“He did much to bring Christianity to this area. But he believed that Christianity was of little value unless it could bring an end to the slave trade here.”
“Was he able to do that?” I ask. The question is to both Steve and Kafeel, but Steve doesn't answer. I guess he hasn't gotten to that part yet.
“Yes, he contributed greatly to it,” says Kafeel. “You must know the famous story of how the journalist, Mr. Stanley, found him and said, 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume?'”
“He found him in 1871. But even though he had been sent to rescue him, David Livingstone did not want to leave Africa. But he sent a report back to England with Mr. Stanley. It was about a massacre he had seen at Nyangwe. Slavers had burned the village and killed over 400 people, mostly women and children. It was a heartbreaking report and when the people of England heard it, they were angry. The government of England sent warships to Zanzibar and ordered the Arab Sultan to abolish slavery. He did. And since Zanzibar had the main slave market, it was the end of all major trading.”
“I didn't know any of that,” I say.
“You can visit his home here and see where he lived while he prepared for his final trip into Africa.”
“We'll have to visit it,” says Steve, sounding interested.
“But you said you were here to look for information about your great-great-grandfather,” I say. “Have you found anything?”
“There is much information, yes.”
“Lucky you,” says Steve, pouring himself some more coffee. “How did you find anything about him?”
Kafeel reaches for another cookie.
“Well, you see, my great-great-grandfather was David Livingstone.”
ur jaws drop.
“You didn't know David Livingstone had African children?” Kafeel asks.
We both shake our heads.
“Perhaps it is not well known,” says Kafeel.
“Did he have a lot of children?” I ask.
“He had a lot of wives. Someone said that he had three hundred wives while he was in Africa.”
“I do not know how many children he had,” says Kafeel. “But I know in my family, he only knew my great-great-grandmother for one night.”
“Wow,” says Steve.
“She raised my great-grandmother who married an Arab. I think if it were not for my great-great-grandfather, she would have been his slave. But she was his wife. And they had two sons. One of them was my grandfather. He married one of his cousins.”
“You mean, another Arab?”
“No,” said Kafeel. “Another grandchild of David Livingstone. They had many children together. One of them was my father. He married a woman from Bagamoyo and they had my sister and me. My sister looks very much like Ginny.”
“Wow,” says Steve again.
“My sister married a man from England. He is African, but has English citizenship, so that is where they live now. I miss her very much. She was the one I played with as a child.”
“So you decided to come here for a visit?” I say.
“I wanted to learn more.”
“I don't understand David Livingstone. Was he a missionary or was he an explorer?” I say.
“Both,” says Kafeel. “He started off as a missionary. He said something very beautiful. He said that 'the sweat of one's brow is no longer a curse when one works for God.'”
“That is beautiful,” I agree.
“But as time went on, all he wanted to do was find the source of the Nile.”
“Did he find it?” I ask.
Kafeel shakes his head.
“No, and he became very sick looking for it. He could hardly move from the village where he was staying. In fact, it is funny, the people who took care of him were often the Arab slave traders. Like it showed in the play.”
“That is funny,” says Steve. “I didn't know any of this.”
“My great-great-grandfather was a good man,” says Kafeel, “But I do not think he should have started to look for the source of the Nile. God already knew where the Nile started.”
“It sounds like his health deteriorated because of it,” says Steve.
“Yes, it did,” says Kafeel. “And I have learned much from this. I think God gives us the health to serve him, but we cannot expect much if we want to do our own things. That is what I have learned from coming here.”
“It makes sense,” says Steve. “I hope we learn something good from here, too.”
After our coffee, we shake hands with Kafeel and he wishes us God's blessings.
When we get back to our hotel room, Steve picks up the book about David Livingstone.
“You know, I don't really feel like reading about him anymore,” he says, as he puts the book in a dresser drawer.
“I know what you mean,” I say, kicking off my sandals and falling back on the bed. I can see why people have an afternoon nap in hot countries. By afternoon you feel worn out.
But I'm dreaming if I think I'm going to actually be able to take a nap. Now that Steve doesn't have a book to read there's really only one other thing he can think of doing.
We have dinner at the roof-top restaurant. We have onion crźpes as an appetizer and a spicy glazed chicken for the main course. There's a delicious fruit salad for dessert. It has small sweet bananas, mango, pineapple and a few other things I don't recognize.
After dinner, we go sit in the courtyard and enjoy the cool night air.
“Well, I'm glad Kafeel found what he was looking for,” says Steve, leaning back in one of the pool-side lounge chairs. “But I don't even know where to begin looking. I mean, Elsie was probably buying mosquito netting. Is there any reason for us to be here? Any unfinished business?”
“You said it took a lot of preparation to go into the interior of Africa.”
“Yeah,” says Steve. “Even if she took a train, she'd still have to have supplies for when she arrived.”
“If she was preparing for the trip ahead, maybe we should be preparing too,” I say.
“I'll buy the tents and the mosquito netting tomorrow,” he says.
“I've already got our hotel picked out, silly,” I say. “But I think it's cool that we can take the same train route that your great-grandmother did.”
Although nowadays we could fly directly from Zanzibar to Kisumu, we'll be sailing to Mombasa and then taking the train from Mombasa to Nairobi and then onto the port town of Kisumu which is right on Lake Victoria. The guidebook says that we can expect to see some African wildlife on the way.
“That's the whole thing though,” says Steve. “We'll be staying in a hotel so we don't need to get supplies. Are you sure you don't want to rough it a bit and buy some tents and maybe do it a little bit more safari-style?” He's only half-joking.
“As long as you stand between me and the lions,” I say, deciding that it might be better to call his bluff than to be the one to spoil his fun.
“Yeah, there would be those,” agrees Steve.
“Anyway, dear,” I say. “You do what's best. But I was thinking we could enjoy the romantic sunsets over Lake Victoria from the comfort of the Imperial hotel . . .”
“Lion bites are supposed to be painful,” says Steve. “OK, we'll go for the Imperial.”
There, that wasn't too hard to convince him.
“Well,” says Steve, standing up. “Now that we've established that great-grandmother Elsie was just spending her time on Zanzibar buying African gear, maybe tomorrow we can check out the beach!”
The next morning we put on our bathing suits, load on the sunblock, slip into our flip flops, grab some large towels and walk down to the beach.
Everything about the beach says paradise.
The sand is white, the palm trees gently sway, bright colourful boats bob in the water. The water is a brilliant turquoise, the sky a gentle blue with feathery white clouds.
Steve wants to go straight into the water. I want to sit on the sand and just take it all in. So, once again, old married couple that we are, we go our separate ways. At least this time we can still see each other.
I half-expect that someone will come up and start talking to me again, the way Kafeel did. But, except for some fishermen out in their boats, we have this part of the beach to ourselves.
I lie on my stomach and watch Steve swimming in the water.
My mind wanders over what Kafeel said to us about his great-great-grandfather. I wonder why we came to Zanzibar and why it seems like something's missing. Are we just supposed to sit and wait for a month and then move onto Mombasa?
Then it occurs to me.
We're not going about it the right way!
I jump to my feet and rush out into the water.
“What is it?” he asks, laughing as he catches me.
“I think we've gotten it wrong!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” I take a deep breath. “We've come here looking for your great-grandmother. But we should have come here acting like your great-grandmother.”
“In what way?” asks Steve.
“She came here as a missionary. She wanted to help people. We've come here looking for the trail that she left behind. But we should just follow her example and look for people to help!”
“I see what you mean,” says Steve, thoughtfully.
“She wouldn't have been here at the beach,” I say.
“Because there are no people to help,” I say.
Steve looks around. For a few moments he's quiet.
“Yeah, I guess you're right. It's amazing here, but I guess it isn't where we're supposed to be.”
I feel bad dragging him away from this Eden, but if we stick around here we'll be like David Livingstone looking for the source of the Nile instead of doing what we came to do.
Back in the hotel room we change into dry clothing and then open up the map from my guidebook and work out our strategy.
“The whole coast is probably for tourism,” says Steve. “So we should go inland a bit and see how the real people live.”
“Good thinking,” I say. “How about here?” I point to a small town in the centre of the island.
“OK,” says Steve. “Let's see if a taxi will take us on a bit of a tour.”
Outside of the hotel there is a taxi and the driver is surprised when Steve shows him where we want to go.
“Nothing interesting there,” he says.
“We'd still like to go,” says Steve.
The driver shrugs and turns back around in his seat to start the engine.
It doesn't take long to see the difference between the coast and the interior of the island. We move away from the hotels and paved roads and are soon traveling along a red-dirt road. The tall tropical trees shade square houses made of simple bricks with thatched roofs. There are rows and rows of fruit trees and from the car we see people harvesting them. Many of them are children.
Some villages are more dilapidated than others but despite the greyness of some of the buildings, there is usually a lot of colour – the clothing hanging on the lines, brightly painted doors, posters on walls.
There are mosques but we don't see any churches.
“Well,” says the driver, looking at us through the rear view mirror. “Back to Stone Town?”
“We'd like to go where there are needs,” he says.
The driver's eyebrows go up.
“Where people need help,” I say.
He thinks about this.
“Well, why didn't you say so?” he says, as he does a U-turn. “OK.”
We drive back to a village we just passed through, but this time he takes a turn down an even rougher country road. We pull up in front of a building that would be condemned if it were in Canada.
“Here,” he says. “Orphans.”
There are children playing outside. They have an old rusty swing set and what looks like a sandbox, except that it just has dirt and no toys.
Our driver gets out of the car first.
“I will show you,” he says.
We follow him through the blue wooden double doors into a crowded dirty room lined with beds. There are children everywhere. Some are sitting on the beds. Others are just on the floor.
Our driver calls out something in Swahili and from a back room comes an older woman wearing the traditional kanga. She looks tired but has a big smile for the man.
“Mosi!” She gives him a big hug.
“This is my Auntie Muna,” he says to us. He turns to her. “They wanted to help.”
Muna looks thrilled.
“Thank you! Thank you!” she says, taking our hands. “Come! Come!”
She takes us around and introduces us to some of the children. In broken English she explains that she has twenty-three young ones to look after and only one helper, a girl in the village named Fila. Fila works hard, but she's also needed at home.
Mosi calls out in Swahili before turning and leaving.
“He will be back in a few hours,” Muna says.
The needs here are many and obvious. I end up helping with a huge pile of laundry that needs hanging on a line out back. Steve is busy inside. He's mopping the floor and then he's set to work by Muna doing some repairs on the furniture.
In all of our traveling around, we've skipped lunch so by midafternoon, we're pretty hungry. When I'm done the laundry, I ask Muna what the children eat. She points to a fruit grove behind the orphanage, as well as to a large garden.
“Good man give us this land. We try to grow everything we need.”
The thought of this one woman feeding and clothing twenty-three children with only one person to help is exhausting.
I think Muna senses that I have food on my mind because she sends me to the garden to pick some vegetables for a soup that she will make. I fill a basket and take it inside to a small kitchen with an old stove where there is a big pot already filled with water. Muna starts chopping vegetables. There is no sign of any other food in the kitchen except for a bag of dried beans, some salt and some spices.
Steve saw me come in and joins us in the kitchen.
Without saying anything he takes it all in.
“Is there a store nearby?” he asks.
“Yes,” says Muna. “Just walk down the road. Not far.”
“OK,” says Steve. “We'll be back.”
She gives us a cheerful wave.
We hike down the road. It's dusty. It's hot. All we had to drink back at the orphanage was some water from a well.
“Wow,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Steve. “Really. In the morning, we're in paradise. In the afternoon, we're here.”
“I hope the store isn't too far,” I say.
We're of one mind on this trip to the store. There's no way we can just let that kitchen stay bare.
The store is a small general one that meets the needs of the local community. I don't know how we're going to get it all back, but we load up on sugar, coffee, tea, rice, flour, as well as a whole pile of freshly baked flat bread.
“Thank God!” I say, as we step back outside with all our purchases. I just spotted Mosi and his taxi parked on the road.
“Muna said you came to the store,” he says. “Finished for the day?” Then he sees all of our purchases and he grins.
He starts loading up the trunk of his taxi.
“Hold on,” says Steve. He goes back inside and soon comes out with even more supplies. Cocoa powder, beans, canned meat.
“Is there anything we missed?” I say to Mosi.
“A goat?” he says mischievously.
“A goat?” I say.
“For milk,” he explains.
“Fine,” says Steve, getting into the back-seat. “Let's go get a goat.”
Mosi's eyebrows go up but he drives us down another dirt road and soon he and Steve are talking to a man in a field and there's some kind of negotiations going on and then Mosi is leading a goat back to the car. The goat is persuaded to climb into the front seat although he isn't pleased about it and spends the short trip back to the orphanage complaining to us in the backseat.
Muna is overwhelmed when we return with the supplies and the goat. Mosi and Steve carry the groceries to the kitchen. Muna ties up the goat in the back.
The children surround me as I distribute the fresh bread.
We stay for the soup. It's watery but the vegetables are fresh and the spices are tasty.
“Allah bless you!” says Muna, kissing us both on our cheeks.
“We'll be back tomorrow, if you like,” says Steve.
“Allah bless you!” she says again.
Mosi is shaking his head as we leave the orphanage.
“You are the strangest customers I've ever had.”
When we get back to the hotel, we agree that Mosi will drive us out to the orphanage the next day. We're
both so exhausted that after a quick shower each, we collapse into the bed and
efore Mosi drives us to the orphanage, we want to pick up some things. I buy some toy cars and some dolls, as well as some things to play with for the sandbox. Steve is more practical and suggests we also pick up some flip flops and some t-shirts and shorts. Most of the kids looked pretty ragged.
Mosi is happy to show us around. We pick up on his subtle hint that it might be good to get some new blankets as well.
We may not be explorers going into the interior of Africa, but we still have the fun of shopping for supplies.
The kids are thrilled to see us and run up to the taxi before it even comes to a stop. Mosi has to slow down to about an eighth of a mile an hour to keep everyone safe.
Right away, the kids want to try out the new toys in the sandbox. So I join them and help them to build a castle, moat and all. It may not be the white sands of the beach, but it's more fun.
Steve is helping Muna wash all the bedding. With the new blankets, she wants to have some clean sheets underneath. I join them to hang the sheets on the line. Then we distribute the cars and the dolls.
“Very nice, very nice,” says Muna nodding.
Then we help her pick some vegetables from the garden to go with the rice for lunch.
It's nonstop work, even when Fila from the village joins us. The kids are excited to show her their new dolls and cars. She gives them all a smile and a hug. I watch her for the rest of the afternoon. She doesn't do a lot of work but she spends all of her time with the kids, hugging them and listening to them.
“She's wonderful with the children,” I say to Muna.
“Oh yes,” says Muna. We are washing the dishes from lunch. “Fila loves the children.”
“It can't be easy though,” I say. “I mean, so many kids wanting your attention all at once.”
Muna nods as she hangs the tea-towel up on a hook.
“Well, we treat them the way we want to be treated.”
I nod. The Golden Rule.
“It is like this,” says Muna, as we head out into the backyard to get the sheets off the line. The wind has been blowing and they dried quickly. “God is a God of justice. So in the life to come, I will be treated by him the way I treated people.”
“Wow,” I say. “I never thought about it that way.”
“That is God's justice.”
“It actually makes sense,” I say.
Together we are folding the sheets.
“It was not my idea,” says Muna. “Before me, there was a wise woman who ran this orphanage. She told me to treat the children the way I would like to be treated in the life to come. And that advice is something I have tried to follow. She said that she had learned that from the lady before her who started this orphanage.”
Steve has come out to join us. I tell him what Muna told me.
“Yeah, that's really good. I'll have to remember that.”
We go back into the orphanage and Muna places a clean sheet on each bed. Steve and I follow along with the blankets and start making the beds.
“A lady started this orphanage?” I say, to keep the conversation going.
“Yes, a Christian lady. From Canada, I think.”
Steve and I both look at each other.
“When?” asks Steve.
“Long before I was born.” She thinks. “Let me see . . . The orphanage was a hundred years old, four years ago . . .”
“1906,” Steve and I say at the same time. I have a tingle run down my spine.
“Was her name Elsie?” asks Steve. “Elsie Banks?”
Muna is surprised.
“Elsie, yes. That is the name of the orphanage. The Elsie House Orphanage.”
“Unbelievable,” says Steve.
We all stop making beds.
“I do not understand,” says Muna.
“Elsie was my great-grandmother,” Steve explains. “Ginny and I came to Zanzibar to look for her.”
We end up sitting on one of the beds as Steve tells the story. Muna is amazed.
“And Allah brought you here?” she says.
“Elsie only stayed in Zanzibar for a short time,” says Muna. “But she started this orphanage and as long as she lived, she continued to send us money. But many years ago, the money stopped coming so we knew she had died. She would have been very, very old.”
“She was,” he says. “But we'll be the ones sending the money now. That's our unfinished business.” He looks at me. I nod.
“We'll finish what she started,” I say.
Muna starts to cry.
“The day before you came I cried out to Allah, why won't he take care of us? Why won't he finish what he started?”
Now Steve and I almost start to cry. Except that some of the children see and rush over to us. They think we're sad and so they want to share their dolls and their cars with us. Soon we're so busy laughing and playing that we don't have time to think of miracles. Only the moment. But I know that God is in the moment too.
e spend our stay in Zanzibar at the orphanage. Steve paints the outside while Fila and I paint the inside. We also sew up old sheets and shirts and pants, something Muna doesn't have time for.
Of course, a lot of time is spent with the children. We buy colouring books and crayons for the younger ones. Some of the older ones go to the local school and Steve and I do our best to help them with their homework and with their reading. By the time we leave, we've bought enough books for them that Steve has to build them a bookshelf on one wall.
Saying good-bye is hard.
But at least we know that things will be able to carry on now that we'll be sending them a monthly allowance. It'll mean that we have to be more careful with our money but neither of us mind.
Mosi drives us to the quay where we are to take a large boat across the Strait. We're close enough that we could actually walk, but it's an excuse to see him one more time and it's easier than carrying suitcases.
We hug and he tells us it's Allah's will that we met and we agree.
This is our first time back to the water since the day we visited the beach.
Steve takes my hand as we stand along the railing. The boat has cast-off. There are about twenty other people along the railing, not counting the crew, watching as we sail along the coast of Zanzibar, heading north to the African mainland.
“So,” he says. “What will we do in Mombasa?”
“Elsie only stayed a night in Mombasa,” I say. “She went straight to Kisumu the next day.”
“So I guess we'll do that too,” says Steve. “I think you're right. We should just do what she would have done and let God take it from there.”
“We probably shouldn't bother with the Imperial,” I say.
“I know what you mean. I'm getting the idea that our days of luxury are over.” Steve looks cheerful. “Which means we'll probably be staying in a tent in the jungle, hunting wild animals . . .”
“There are no people in the jungle to help,” I interrupt him. “I have a hard time imagining your great-grandmother out by herself in the jungle hunting lions.”
“Yeah, you're probably right,” says Steve, putting his arm around me as I lean into him. “Well, something in between then. Not a hotel. Not a tent.”
It makes me think of how Jesus sent the disciples out and they were just supposed to stay wherever they could. Except that this is us and we're not the disciples. But I guess in a way, we are.
When we arrive in Mombasa, it's evening. It's busy by the water with the other boats, but it's getting too late to sightsee. We take our suitcases and head straight for some taxis waiting nearby.
Steve tells the driver we have to take a train the next day, so is there someplace close to the railway that we can stay?
The driver nods and starts the engine.
“Can we stay someplace not too expensive?” Steve adds.
The driver looks at him through the rearview mirror.
“Expensive near the railway,” he says.
Steve and I look at each other.
“Can we go somewhere that Africans would go?” I say.
“How you mean?”
“Someplace real,” says Steve. “Not for tourists, but for people who want to meet Africans.”
The driver thinks about this as he drives. The road is busy but in the dimness of the evening, I'm not really taking anything in.
We leave the main road and drive down some back streets.
Steve or no Steve, I'm scared. Who knows where we might end up? Does the driver understand that we want to stay someplace real, but safe? Maybe he thinks we're looking for some wild nightlife.
But we pull up in front of a quiet two-story building. The area that we're in is run-down, but obviously residential.
“Here,” says the driver. “Many Africans stay here.”
He unloads our suitcases and we're left on the street. When we go inside, there is a well-lit lobby with a man behind a kiosk. There are some people sitting around in plastic chairs, drinking Cokes and talking or playing cards.
“I think it's a hostel,” says Steve.
A couple of people glance at us and then go back to their conversations. The taxi cab driver is right. Everyone is African. Though as Steve is arranging a room for us, a young blond couple come down the stairs. They look German, or maybe Dutch. They have backpacks on and head straight out the front door.
Steve has a key and we head up the stairs.
The hallway is worn but clean. Some of the doors to the rooms are open and we hear conversation.
Our room makes us laugh. It has two single beds with a small desk between them. Guess we'll just be sleeping tonight.
“I wonder what we should do for food,” says Steve, dropping our suitcases on the floor. “Can you call for pizza here?”
“Let's go ask the people downstairs,” I say.
“Good idea,” says Steve. I run a brush through my hair and we head back down.
The people sitting around are happy to give us some suggestions.
One girl says the best place to eat in Mombasa is a seafood restaurant by the water.
“Anything closer?” asks Steve.
“Just down the road,” says one man with an English accent. “Indian takeaway. Better than in London.”
Eating Indian food in Africa seems funny, but it’s our best option. We walk down the road past houses and a few closed shops until we come to a small busy building. It is decorated with Chinese lanterns but is clearly the Indian takeaway. There's no seating, just a counter to go up to and place your order. The man behind it is Indian, as are the people behind him in the kitchen.
We order some chicken vindaloo, papadoms and mango chutney. The man recommends something to drink so we get some ginger beer and some bottled water.
The people in the lobby greet us like old friends when we return.
We carry our food back up to our room and eat it on our beds.
“Whew!” says Steve. “This is hot!” He gulps down half his ginger beer.
I nod, my eyes wide. I just had a bite of the vindaloo. Thankfully it was a small bite. It's a spicy dish. I eat the rest of it with the papadoms and loaded with the chutney just to tone it down a bit. We're both grateful for the man's advice to get a drink.
There's no bathroom in our room so before going to bed we have to go down the hallway to the communal one. As we're coming back down the hallway to our room, something black scurries in front of us. I just about jump into Steve's arms.
“What was that?!”
“Cockroach maybe. They’re common in these parts.”
“A cockroach?!” I try not to squeal. “Are they in our room too?”
“I dunno,” Steve says, maddeningly calm, unlocking the door to our room. “Maybe. They're not dangerous.”
“We didn't see any in Zanzibar,” I say. My eyes are scanning the carpet.
“We were paying $125 a night for our room in Zanzibar,” says Steve, yawning. “We're paying $5 here.”
“Five dollars?” I say.
Steve nods as he climbs into his bed. Very carefully, checking the sheets, I get into mine.
“You're welcome to join me,” says Steve.
I look at the narrow bed. I don't like the idea of sleeping on my side all night.
“Another time,” I say.
Steve switches the lamp off and we both go to sleep.
It is tempting to stay in Mombasa for a while.
The train doesn't depart until the evening so we leave our suitcases at the hostel and do a bit of exploring. The man at the front desk of the hostel tells us the cheapest way to see the city is to take a public bus and he writes down some bus numbers for us.
The city is huge. We barely saw any of it last night.
Not only is there the beautiful coast, but the city itself is lively and colourful. The trees and the plants let us know we're in a tropical zone and the buildings are a mix of African and Arabic and though dilapidated in some areas, they have a simple dignity. But if we're going to follow in Elsie's footsteps we have to keep going.
Steve says maybe we can check out Fort Jesus on our way back but then acknowledges that when two roads diverge in a wood and you take the one less traveled by, you may never get back to the other one.
The railway station is picturesque enough to satisfy our longings for the exotic. It's not the station itself, which is a plain one-story building, as much as it is the train in the station. It looks old enough to be the one Elsie rode on.
Steve purchases the two tickets for Kisumu and we're told we can board the train right away if we want.
“I think second-class would be best,” said Steve. “Third-class might be too much of a culture shock, but I think our first-class days are over. I also had to book us for dinner. The first seating was full. We'll be with the second seating.”
“Do you think we should bring anything with us? Food? Drinks?”
“It might be a good idea. Just from Mombasa to Nairobi is supposed to be thirteen hours.”
We go over to a man with a blanket laid-out with snacks. We load up on bottled water, sunflower seeds and some hard candies.
Our compartment already has an occupant -- a young, slim Indian man wearing a white cotton shirt and khaki pants.
He smiles as we take our seats across from him.
“Hello,” says Steve.
“I am Akram.”
Steve introduces us.
“You are traveling to Nairobi?” asks Akram.
“Yes, and then onto Kisumu.”
“You are going from Nairobi to Kisumu?” The man shakes his head. “Very dangerous. It is not so bad for Africans, but not for foreigners.”
We look at each other.
“Why?” Steve asks.
“It goes all through a slum area, Kibera. Very violent.”
“Oh dear,” I say.
“Well, we have to go there.”
Now Akram shrugs.
“We are all in Allah's hands. Would you like some halwa?”
He holds out a bag with some nougat-looking candy filled with fruits and nuts. I recognize the word halwa. It's Arabic for sweet. Both Steve and I take a piece.
We start talking and Akram tells us his family has been living in Nairobi for about a hundred years. They started as tailors but now they are clothing distributors. Akram has come from Delhi where one branch of the family stayed. He is returning with new designs and patterns for their business in Nairobi. He asks about us. By the time Steve tells him our story, the train is moving and we're on the outskirts of Mombasa.
Once we get past the city, I can understand why the guidebook promised that we might see some wild animals. But the sun is starting to set. So while Steve and Akram talk about Indian music and African drums and how much they like both, I'm more tempted to lean a sweater against the window and doze rather than to try to catch a glimpse of any zebras.
Akram is also booked for the second seating for dinner so when the conductor makes the announcement, we head down the corridor together.
Dinner is some kind of fish with an exotic arrangement of vegetables. There's coffee and custard for dessert. After our full day touring the city I'm tired so I just eat in silence. Akram directs all his conversation to Steve anyhow. It's a Muslim thing, I think, men talking to men.
When we get back to the compartment, our seats have been converted to bunks. Akram takes a lower bunk, pulls out an mp3 player and stares absently out the darkened window. Steve takes the bottom bunk and moves closer to the window to see if there's anything interesting. But I just climb onto the bunk above him and sleep. I don't wake-up until daylight when the conductor comes around telling us it’s time for breakfast.
Akram doesn’t bother with breakfast, but Steve and I have just enough time for some coffee and pastries before we're in Nairobi. We return to our compartment as we pull into a small stone railway station.
“May Allah go with you,” says Akram, solemnly shaking Steve's hand before leaving our compartment.
Steve asks the conductor when the train will be leaving for Kisumu.
“Tomorrow,” says the man. “18:30.”
“Tomorrow?” says Steve.
But the man has moved on.
Steve examines our tickets.
“It is tomorrow,” he says.
“Let's see. 18:30. That's ... one o'clock is 13:00, 2 is 14, 3 is 15, 4 is 16 ... 6:30.”
So we have two days and a night in Nairobi ahead of
he feeling we have is, where to begin?
We're in Nairobi, Kenya. I have out my guidebook. We only have two days. And there are at least twenty things we want to do.
Since I’ve read Out of Africa, I want to head straight for the Karen Blixen Museum. Steve says we should start with the Nairobi National Park, an animal reserve right on the edge of the city.
On top of that, Nairobi is a mix of modern skyscrapers and picturesque Africa. It has all the pleasures of a city -- restaurants, stores, markets, museums, theatres -- plus the exoticness of Africa. And on top of all the exploring we want to do, we need to find a place to sleep for the night.
“We could take a taxi out there,” says Steve. His mind is fixed on the National Park.
I'm reading the guidebook and thinking maybe we could do the Karen Blixen Museum tomorrow, if we pick a place to stay that's close to it. The nearest hotel, from what I can tell, is expensive but I really want to go there . . .
Steve suddenly drops beside me.
At first, I don't realize what's happened.
I hear some people around me murmuring something but my mind is on our plans.
I turn to Steve.
He’s not there. He’s on the ground.
“Oh my God!” My hand flies up to my mouth.
He's just lying there. He's gone white. I don't even know if he's alive. His eyes are closed.
“Steve! Steve!” I drop down on my knees. A crowd starts to move in.
I don't know what to do.
I see a man pulling out a cell-phone.
“Ambulance?” he asks.
I nod and turn back to Steve.
“Heat stroke?” I hear someone say.
Even in my frantic state, I dismiss that idea. It's hot but it's still morning. Besides we haven't been out in the sun for more than ten minutes.
I hear someone else say how young he looks, too young to die.
I almost scream.
I think this is the worst moment of my life. And we've had some moments. But this is my all time scariest, most awful moment.
The ambulance arrives after an undetermined amount of time. The crowd moves back as two men come forward with a stretcher. The whole time, Steve has barely moved. But he's not dead. He's still breathing. At some point I start praying, wishing my Rosary wasn’t buried somewhere in my suitcase.
I climb in the back with Steve. Some kind person tosses our suitcases back there with us and then we're off. The streets are crowded, but the traffic reluctantly moves slightly aside for the ambulance. I don't notice most of the ride anyway. My eyes never leave Steve's face as I murmur Hail Marys.
Why did this have to happen? Why did God let Steve collapse like this in Africa, of all places? It means I'm alone, on the other side of the world from our families. What happens if I don't know what to do? How long will I have to stay here? Is Steve in a coma? I can't stop thinking and it's sort of a combination of thinking and praying.
Steve is still white and his eyes are still closed. The medic is taking his pulse while he watches his watch. He does some other routine checks, but his face is passive so I don't know if it's good or bad.
Finally we arrive at the hospital. It's clean and modern, but I'm appalled by how crowded it is. Steve's gurney is wheeled into a hallway, a report is handed to a passing nurse, the medic gives me a quick smile and says “All the best” and we're left alone.
I don't know whether I should make a fuss or just sit still and wait. There are many, many like me. People standing or sitting beside gurneys. I'm the only one with two large suitcases, but we're all in the same situation. Nurses are hurrying up and down the hallways of what I presume is Emergency, but nobody on the gurneys are being examined. Some of the patients are conscious. Some of them are like Steve, lying still and silent.
One woman is not silent. She is clutching her abdomen and crying. A young man is beside her. He looks like her husband and he is distressed. But they aren't receiving any medical attention.
The swinging door that some of the nurses pass through leads to a large waiting room and I can see that there are as many people out there as there are on this side. Further down the hallway is what looks like rooms. These must be for the people who have graduated from the hallway to a room because I see people with white coats going in and out.
“Oh dear God,” I say, sinking down onto one of the suitcases. I don't even know if I say it out loud. I don't really care.
“What are we doing here? How did this happen? Please make Steve better. Please God. Please, please, please.” I know I sound like a child. I don't care. I wasn't even this scared when we were taken hostage in Baghdad.
God seems to be silent and Steve is the same, so I just put my head in my hands and close my eyes. My sleep on the train wasn't that great and I still feel tired. Did Steve sleep at all? I don't even know.
There's nothing to do but wait. And wait. And wait.
The woman clutching her abdomen is now just whimpering. Her husband is pale. Finally, a nurse comes and wheels her gurney into one of the rooms. Even in my state, I'm glad. I hope whatever it is, they can help her and that she'll get better.
I sit in the hallway long enough to start to get hungry. We never did eat our sunflower seeds on the train. I eat some of the seeds and drink some of the bottled water.
There are no windows in the hallway and I'm not wearing a watch, but it feels like late afternoon by the time a nurse wheels Steve's gurney into a room. A male nurse assists her in transferring Steve into a bed. I try to tell her what happened but she mainly wants to know how we will be paying. We have travel insurance, something Steve took care of. I think we have to pay if anything happens and then they'll reimburse us.
“Credit card, I guess.”
She nods and makes a note of this on the clipboard. She asks for my name. She already has Steve's. She takes Steve's pulse while the male nurse attaches the IV apparatus. And then she tells me that a doctor will be with us soon.
Soon is a relative word, I find.
At least there is a chair beside the bed.
The room holds five other beds and each of them has someone in it, plus one or two people sitting beside them. It's a small room. The male nurse put our suitcases under the bed since otherwise there'd be no room for examining Steve. The only privacy is the curtains on runners but no one has them pulled around the bed. I guess they don't want to cut themselves off from any visit by the doctor.
This whole time, Steve hasn't moved. I put my head to his chest. He's still breathing.
I desperately need to use the bathroom. But I don't want to leave him.
But eventually necessity prevails and I have to walk down the hallway to find a bathroom. Each room is full and despite how late it is in the day, the hallways are still full too.
I return from the bathroom and try to get comfortable in the seat beside the bed. I think I might be here awhile.
A clock above the doorway says 3:37 when the doctor comes in. It must be the middle of the night. I have finally dozed off but my neck is painfully stiff. He starts with the bed across from us, an elderly man who is semiconscious. The doctor efficiently examines the man and speaks quietly to the young woman in the chair beside him. When the doctor is done, a nurse is buzzed and the man is wheeled out on a gurney. The doctor moves onto the next patient while the spot created by the elderly man is quickly taken by a shivering young man in a wheelchair pushed in by a male nurse.
Steve is the last to be examined.
“Good evening,” says the doctor, kindly but absentmindedly. Already he is examining Steve. He glances at the chart and continues. Steve moans slightly but doesn't move.
“Please tell me what happened,” says the doctor quietly.
I don't want to waste his time. I just tell him we were standing on the street and Steve suddenly collapsed.
“We had just arrived by train,” I add.
The doctor nods.
“Physically there is nothing wrong with him that I can see. His heartbeat is fine. His pulse is fine. We can keep him here and do some tests on him in the morning. But my guess is he'll recover on his own.”
He gives me a smile and then leaves the room. Already the room is full of new patients. But I guess they'll get the doctor on the next round. Meanwhile, Steve is being transferred to another gurney and I'm following along behind carrying our two suitcases.
Our next room has only four beds but this time I have loads of forms to fill out. I have to go through Steve's knapsack to get the insurance information. Turns out I won't have to pay. They take care of everything if I just call some 1-800 number. I use the phone by the bed and in a daze answer all of their questions. By the time I'm done, it's morning. This room has a window so it's easier to feel the time.
As I'm putting back the insurance information, Steve's slim Bible lands on the ground. It's fallen open.
Isaiah 40:1 stares at me.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
For a moment, I just stare.
I've always read my Bible. I know most of the stories pretty well and except for, maybe the minor prophets, I've read most of the books once or twice. But this is the first time I've felt like God is speaking to me.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
It's the answer to my prayer. The one about what are we doing here? I look around the room. I see people like me. Scared people.
The hallways are full of people like me. And Steve.
And Steve and I were just going to spend our time in Nairobi sightseeing. We didn't think about the people. We just cared about what we wanted to do. We got it in Zanzibar and then we forgot all about it here.
I take a deep breath.
I'm still terrified. Steve is lying there so still. But it all makes sense and I think it's going to be OK.
And for the first time I realize I'm starving.
There is a meal for the patients who are conscious, but for the ones who are like Steve, there is just the I.V. When a nurse comes to change the bag on his I.V., I ask her if there is a place for people to get some food. She nods and says there is an employees' cafeteria on the second floor, but I would be free to use it.
“Is it OK to leave my husband?” I ask.
“I'm going to take some blood from him now and we'll test it. It may take awhile.”
I don't want to see a needle going into Steve, so I pick up my purse and remove Steve's wallet from his pocket. It's not just for fear of it being stolen. He's the only one of us with money. It still feels weird taking his wallet though.
I manage to find my way to an elevator. The hallways are still crowded with people waiting. I'm not exactly sure at what point God wants me to start comforting his people, but right now I can't think of anything but food.
I don’t know what I was expecting for an African breakfast, but I'm surprised to find that it's a lot like a North American one. As I go through the line, there are the usual eggs, potatoes, sausages, breakfast pastries, cereals. I try something called bobotie. It's a spicy beef dish with a creamy egg sauce on top. I grab something that looks like a brioche and add a large mug of steaming coffee to my tray.
The cafeteria is quiet. It's still pretty early. Most of the people are hospital personnel, although there are a few lone people like me, people who probably have a loved one in the hospital. I choose a small table for two by a window, wishing that it were Steve across from me instead of the empty chair.
After my revelation from God, I kind of expect someone to sit across from me, someone with a sad story, who is lonely and needs someone to talk to. But it doesn't happen and I’m too shy to force an encounter with anyone.
So the only thing to do is focus on my food. I'm surprised to discover raisins and what seems like chutney in my breakfast dish. But it's delicious. I'll have to look for an online recipe someday if we make it home. When we make it home.
And that's when I have my second revelation of the day.
I am your home.
That's it. Just the words, I am your home.
But it's the same as before.
And it rings just as true as the other message did.
I've always had a comfortable home. Dad and Mom homeschooled us. We traveled all around the world, of course, but we always had that comfortable home to return to. Maybe Steve and I won't have the same thing. In fact, at this moment, I know we won't.
It actually makes sense.
In all my time of being with Steve, I have never been able to picture us in a house, or an apartment, or any specific place, really. I can't imagine staying home and baking muffins while he goes out to work and greeting him with a kiss at the door when he returns. It just doesn't seem like us.
That's OK. I never picked out a china pattern or planned the colours of my bathroom or anything like that.
The coffee revives me and I'm tempted to go back for a second cup except that I want to get back to Steve's bedside.
When I return, he's as still as before. The nurse is a long time coming again. I give a small smile to a lady sitting in a chair by another bedside. For a moment our eyes met. She gives me a solemn nod then carries on with her knitting.
I have no knitting, but I have Steve's Bible. I get it out and read. Nothing monumental happens, but I make it from John 1 to John 18 by the time anyone comes to talk to me.
A different doctor, a middle-aged woman, lets me know the results of the blood test. She has an informal, and yet at the same time, reassuring manner.
“Your husband has a minor blood infection,” she says. “It's very common for foreigners to contract it. I'm going to order that the medication be put into the I.V. for now, and then later on, we can get him taking it in tablet form.”
“So . . . he's going to recover?” I say cautiously.
“Oh, yes. I admit, he's been a little more sedate than some of the patients who have it. But my guess is he hasn't been sleeping too well since he came to Africa. He's getting a good rest now. Don't worry. You'll probably have your husband back by this afternoon. In the meantime, I suggest you try to get some rest.”
I nod. I am so relieved. I'm not sure what I expected. I sort of knew everything would be OK, but I'm still glad to have my doubts relieved.
The doctor is off, doing the rounds of all the patients in the room.
I lean back in the chair, close my eyes, and despite the mug of strong coffee, am soon dozing in and out of reality.
teve comes out of his sleep slowly.
I'm not sure how people normally come out of these things. I'm half-asleep when I realize that his eyes are partly open.
“Steve!” I practically fall onto the bed.
“Ginny?” He gives me a sleepy grin and then seems to fall right back to sleep.
A few minutes later, he's semiconscious again. This time he actually reaches for my hand.
“Ginny, I had a really weird dream.” And then he's asleep again.
I buzz for the nurse. It takes about five minutes for her to come. By the time she does, he's semiconscious again.
“Is this normal?” I ask. “He's sort of fading in and out.”
She assures me that it is, before hurrying off to handle something more important than a man with a minor blood infection.
“Ginny.” Steve is trying to sit up.
“No!” I say. “Rest!” Then I realize how silly that is. He's been resting for about 24 hours now. He ignores me anyhow.
“Ginny,” he says again. He sounds almost normal. “I had the weirdest dream.”
I'm still holding his hand.
He doesn't seem to care that he's in a hospital. Last time he was conscious, we were outside of a train station. Now he doesn't even ask where we are.
“It was like this fiery place,” he says. “Not hell. Not like a place of judgement, or anything. But a place of suffering. I was almost out of my mind it was so intense.”
My eyes are wide.
“I didn't know what to do,” continues Steve. “There were people everywhere. It was too much suffering and I didn't know where to start to help.”
I hold his hand tightly.
“And then out of nowhere, or somewhere or wherever, it was like something told me, give them a glass of water.”
“God,” I whisper.
“Exactly. But the suffering was so intense that I didn't realize it was God. And that's what God was saying to me. He said, how can they see me if they're suffering like this?”
“Comfort my people,” I say.
Steve looks at me in amazement.
“That's exactly it! How did you know?”
I shrug and look down at our intertwined hands.
“It just came to me. I kind of had a revelation, too, while you were unconscious.”
“I was unconscious?” says Steve, looking around for the first time.
I can't help but laugh.
“Yes, you've been unconscious since yesterday. This is a hospital.”
“Wow,” says Steve. He takes this all in and then looks at me with concern. “Are you OK?” His sensitivity to how this might have affected me is enough to make me dissolve into tears, although they are mostly tears of relief.
We both end up laughing and that keeps me from crying. I open my mouth to tell him about what God has told me, but the doctor is back and writing up a prescription. She says Steve will be discharged in about an hour when the I.V. is finished.
When she leaves, again,
I'm about to tell Steve what I learned while he was unconscious, but something
in me stops me. It's like God again, this time telling me that what he said was
for me, not for Steve. I think I get it. It's so I'll always know that what
Steve experienced was real and that it's what God wants for both of us.
e're back at the train station.
Our stay in Nairobi has been bizarre, to say the least. Mostly all we saw was the hospital. Now it's time to resume the journey to Kisumu, on Lake Victoria.
Steve is back to full health, but he's a changed Steve. Kind of more grown up. A man with a sense of purpose. We're going to Kisumu to give water to suffering people. Whether the water is literal or figurative, Steve doesn't know. We both figure that we'll know when we get there. In any case, it seems silly to worry about dangerous slums when you've had visions from God.
We're in second-class again. Again, that means a berth with four sleepers.
We're sharing with one other lady, older, very large and loaded down with baskets and grocery bags filled with clothing. She has settled in and is clearly planning to take up half the space.
Steve and I sit down across from her and Steve gives her a big smile. I guess it’s in case she's one of the suffering people he needs to help.
She just gives a little grunt in reply and then settles back in her seat for a snooze. The train starts about half an hour later without her waking up.
Steve pulls out his Bible and starts reading out loud. Normally, he'd have his arm around me and be snuggling or maybe trying to catch some scenery. But this is a different Steve. A more earnest Steve. He's just opened his Bible and started reading, and by chance, he happens to read the passage about God saying, “Comfort my people.” Or maybe it's not by chance.
The lady wakes up when Steve is still reading. He's gotten out a bottle of water and is taking the occasional swig. She just stares at Steve and at first I'm thinking maybe she doesn't want him reading his Bible out loud. But then Steve looks up.
“Would you like some water?” he asks.
Steve reaches down into his knapsack and hands her a bottle of water, which she receives with mild gratitude.
Steve and I exchange a quick look. Water! A thirsty person! It's starting already!
The woman nods at Steve and for a moment we don't understand. Then Steve gets it. It's a signal to keep reading.
So Steve reads and while he does, the woman nods at certain points, until we're called to the dining car for dinner. We go down the corridor together. Steve asks the woman if she would like to join us, but she shakes her head and takes a separate table.
“Ginny! I think something's happening!” says Steve, leaning across the table so he can speak quietly.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I don't really know what, but it seems to be something.
Steve looks at the menu, without really seeing it, a fact that is confirmed when the waiter comes by to take our order and Steve looks blank. Thankfully, I've been reading it. I order some salad and something called kuka paka, a chicken dish in coconut curry sauce.
We absentmindedly eat our dinner. I can tell that Steve's mind is on this new phase in our life, that of servants of God, ministering to his chosen as we come across them.
But there will no further ministering tonight. When we get back, the beds are down and the woman is already behind her curtain sleeping. Quietly, we climb into our own berths and settle in for the night. It's funny to be so newly married but sleeping alone.
I guess that was all the woman needed from us – a bottle of water and some scriptures. We're having our morning coffee in the dining car when we pull into Kisumu and by the time we go back to collect our suitcases, she is gone.
Once outside the train station, we get into a cab and tell the driver we want to go to a hostel. He says he doesn’t know of one. Steve tells him we want to stay in a place where we’ll be away from the tourists and where we can meet the real people of Kisumu. After nodding slowly, he says he knows a place we might like.
On the drive, we see cyclists on old bikes sharing the road with the cars. Buses look older and smaller than the ones in North America.
“It's tempting to get a nice hotel right by Lake Victoria,” says Steve, grinning and putting his arm around me. I know what he means. I wouldn't mind a return to the feeling that I'm on my honeymoon.
I lean back into Steve's arm. At this point I wouldn't mind a nice, long kiss or some other kind of romantic attention, but Steve's eyes are on the outside of the cab. We are out of the business district and are now passing through a residential area. At first the houses are run-down. But things gradually go downward, until the houses that were run-down seem upscale by comparison. It's not that people are living in boxes. The houses are sturdy enough, but everything has just deteriorated to a point that screams poverty.
But people are still carrying on. We pass through the narrow streets and are within touching distance of women carrying small children and jugs of water. Men dressed in slacks and shirts are out, looking like they have a place to go. There are children playing with a ball down one alley.
We pass out of the slums to where the houses slightly improve. At least, the roofs look a little more solid and the garbage doesn't just end up in the streets. Our cab driver stops in front of one of the houses that has a sign, “Mama's Bed & Breakfast.”
“If you want to meet the people of Kisumu,” he says, turning around to look at us. “You might like it here . . .”
There is hesitation in his manner. But Steve is already out of the cab announcing that it is, “Perfect! Just perfect!” His generous tip causes his pleasure to spread to the driver who drives away with a large grin, leaving us standing in front of Mama's Bed & Breakfast with our suitcases and a small group of children that has formed around us.
“Come to see Big Mama?” asks one of them, grinning.
“Gotta tip?” asks another, trying to pick up my suitcase.
“Sure,” says Steve agreeably, handing him a small coin. The young boy decides that now that he has his coin he won't bother with the heavy suitcase. No matter. There are older, bigger ones ready to step in and take his place. Our suitcases are carried the ten metres to Mama's door and all are generously tipped. Even the ones who just ran alongside.
The large middle-aged woman who answers the door shoos them all away, though. She looks a lot like the lady on the train but way more cheerful.
Steve tells her we'd like to stay in Kisumu for a while. Then we're being shown into Mama's home. Inside is nicer than the outside. That's something I understand from traveling with Dad and Mom to Arabic countries. And it's something Kafeel mentioned in Zanzibar. To avoid the evil eye, people don't make the exterior of their house as nice as the interior. They don't want people to be envious of them. It's not like North America where people like to show off.
Mama, because that's what she asks us to call her, says she has the perfect room for us. We go up a flight of wooden stairs. The house has a feeling of being busy. We can hear the sound of talking in another room, some laughter. A young woman squeezes by us on her way down the stairs. There is something cooking, something that smells spicy and delicious.
On the second floor, Mama opens a door to a medium-sized room with a double bed, a small table and chairs and a solid wooden dresser. There's a large window with colourful curtains. The curtains match the bedspread. It's a cheerful room even if it's smaller than one in a hotel.
Mama is looking at me.
“It's lovely!” I say when I realize she's checking for my reaction.
Her face beams.
“Good, good. Now, meals. You can have breakfast and dinner here, or just breakfast.”
Steve and I look at each other.
“We'd better have breakfast and dinner,” says Steve. “We don't know much about the area.”
Mama nods and tells us breakfast at seven, dinner at six, then leaves us to settle in.
I hope that what we smell cooking is dinner, but I rather suspect it's Mama's lunch. We had breakfast on the train, but we'll be on our own until six.
Steve doesn't seem to think about food anymore.
He suggests that we take a walk around the neighbourhood. See if God shows anything we can do. After we unpack some of our stuff we head back downstairs. Again, there is the feeling that a lot is going on somewhere in the house. But the living room is quiet. It only has a cat sitting on a chair, who gives us a lazy look and then goes back to sleep. I'm not even sure if we're allowed to use the living room. In any case, we head back out the front door.
The children spot us when we're only halfway down the path. They swarm up, bursting with goodwill. Steve puts me in mind of Jesus with the little children. He pats their heads and asks them how they are doing. Something tells me I'll be sharing him a lot more in the future.
One darling little boy takes my hand. It feels kind of sticky and for a moment, I hesitate. Then I look down at his hopeful brown eyes and something in my heart opens up. I grin and squeeze his hand. He smiles with such genuine pleasure, I feel guilty for that moment of hesitation.
Steve is talking to the older boys. They don't look any more than ten. He asks them what they like to do. Soccer. Everyone nods. Soccer. It's the main activity. Steve asks something that would have never occurred to me. He asks if they have a ball. They hesitate and look at each other. Sort of. One of them has put together something to kick around using an old shirt and stuffing it. But it's not as good as the real thing. Next thing I know, Steve is announcing they need a real ball and where should we get one?
The boys are shocked. This is completely unexpected. They confer with one another. From what I gather, there are no nearby sports stores, but it is a generally well-known fact that a boy named Kadhi has one he'd be willing to sell.
So we get the full tour of the nearby slums. It's not a shanty town, because the houses are solid, but the poverty is acute. There are hydro lines and other semblances of civilization, but there's also uncollected garbage and a sense that only the people that live here really care about this place and they're too poor to make any changes.
There are people of all ages out in the street, but some of them just sit in a daze in doorways. There are little stalls selling bottles of some kind of liquid. I imagine what's in the bottles contributes to the dazed look.
Steve takes my hand. A lot of people look at us, but we're surrounded by children so I feel moderately safe.
But when I glance down the narrow side streets, I'm shocked by what I see. Most of the children are in rags, but some of them are actually naked.
Kadhi turns out to be about seventeen. He is very interested when the younger boys knock on his door and explain that they might be in a position to buy his old soccer ball. Steve steps forward and says he'd like to buy it for them.
Kadhi looks at him, man to man. It is obvious that though he is young, he has had to grow up fast.
“Yes,” he says slowly. “I have an old one to sell. Eight hundred and fifty shillings.”
There is a chorus of protest from the younger boys. Eight hundred and fifty shillings! I think it's equivalent to about ten dollars and the boys fear that they are never going to get their ball at that price.
“I'm being ripped off, aren't I?”
There is a small smile from Kadhi.
“Six hundred,” he says.
Behind me, I can hear one boy groan.
But Steve reaches into his pocket and pulls out some of the Kenyan currency. When Kadhi has his money, he goes back into the dark house and comes out with a very old soccer ball. It is handed to Steve who hands it to the biggest of the boys.
The boys touch it and examine it as if they have just been given the pearl of great price.
I don't know why that idea of the pearl of great price comes to my mind, but I have a feeling that Steve has just given them a gift akin to God giving us eternal life.
They don't even say thank you. They just run off with it, laughing, no doubt to start up a game.
“Why did you do that?” asked Kadhi, nodding toward the disappearing little group.
“Why not?” says Steve, shrugging.
“Because people don't do that.”
“I did,” says Steve. “And I'd like to do more before I go.”
“Oh, I get it,” says Kadhi. “You come, you do your good deed, you leave.”
“Is that so bad?” says Steve.
“I guess not.”
“So,” says Steve. “If I wanted to do one more good deed before I left, what do you recommend?”
Kadhi leans against his doorpost.
“Where to begin?” he says. “What is even right about this place?”
We let him think.
“Clean water,” he finally says.
“You mean, like a well?” Steve asks.
“Yeah, I guess. The lake is filthy. It's a dump for all our waste. But people drink it. There is no treated water in this part of Kisumu.”
Steve nods, thoughtfully.
“Well,” he says. “Thanks.”
We turn to leave.
“You're going alone?” says Kadhi.
“I guess so,” he says.
Kadhi shakes his head at our stupidity. He shuts his door behind him.
“Where did you come from?”
“Mama's Bed and Breakfast.”
“Oh, that place,” says Kadhi. “I will take you back.”
“We're not safe?” says Steve.
Kadhi rolls his eyes.
“You only got here because you were in the middle of all those runny-nosed children.”
Kadhi walks us back in silence.
“Thank you,” says Steve when we're within sight of Mama's.
“You did your good deed,” he says. “Now leave.”
It's an interesting way to end a conversation. But somehow I think he says it for our well-being.
“Did you hear what he said?” says Steve enthusiastically when we're back in our room. I realize that the whole experience of walking through the slums of Kisumu has left me tired. While Steve stays standing, I lie on the bed.
I nod, tiredly. He said, leave.
“Water!” continues Steve. “I'm here so they'll have water!”
He looks and sounds just like Moses, about to tell a stone to gush forth with water so his people can drink.
“I don't think you can just drill a well in the middle of a residential area. . . ”
“I know,” says Steve nodding. “I was thinking that on the walk back. It's a municipal issue, really. The pipes may already be in place, for all I know. But obviously these people are neglected and under-represented.”
“Maybe they don't even have faucets,” I say.
“If they don't have water, they might not,” agrees Steve. “But obviously, the job is to bring the water in first. Anyone who needs a faucet can get one then.”
I can't tell if he's joking. It sounds kind of silly. I just know that at some point I lost my husband and now I have a champion of the oppressed in his place. I rollover to my side and face the wall. In the old days, like two weeks ago, he would have joined me on the bed. Now he announces he's going downstairs to find Mama and ask her a bit about the local government. I mumble a good-bye and say don't worry about me, I'll just have a nap. I don't even know if he hears me.
I sleep most of the afternoon.
When Steve returns to the bedroom to tell me it's dinner-time, he's full of news. Mama says, yes, water is the biggest problem. They get it from the lake. Some of the houses have pipes, but the water that comes out is untreated. Her water is treated because her home is in a better neighbourhood but the water is still not good. She has a filter that her son bought for her which makes it drinkable. Even then, she recommends that Steve and I have bottled water until our stomachs adjust.
I find this all alarming as we go downstairs. Whatever we eat will probably have water in it, in some form. I can already feel my stomach churning.
The people around the large dining table greet Steve like an old friend. I guess he met them all when I was sleeping. They are all as young as us and when Steve introduces me, he tells me they're students at various of the local colleges.
I nod a greeting, slightly overwhelmed by the unfamiliar names. But it doesn't matter. Very quickly they turn back to talking to each other.
Mama is at the head of the table and a young woman brings in some dishes from the kitchen. There is a type of fish, from the polluted lake, no doubt. Rice with some kind of a fruit sauce. A side dish of spicy potatoes.
Steve digs in like all the rest. I should have an enormous appetite after missing lunch but I can barely touch my food. But Mama is looking at me for my approval so I smile and try to look like I'm enjoying it.
I don't know where this bad mood has come from.
A week ago, I was the happiest woman on earth. We were traveling the world, led by God, finding adventure. I had a husband I was crazy about. I'm still crazy about him. But now I have to share him. That's it! I have to share him. Before all this vision from God stuff, I had his full attention. And now he's changed. And it's not a bad change. I mean, he's doing God's will, for crying out loud. I have no right to complain. Really, this was why we set out traveling in the first place. I should be thrilled that God's talking to us and Steve's found what he's looking for. But what about me?
I look around the table.
These people don't need me.
Steve doesn't even seem to need me. He's laughing and talking to one of the young men about music and drums and stuff I can't get into.
Then I remember that little boy that held my hand. He looked up at me with such hopeful eyes. I was stranger to him, but he wanted to be near me. God told me to comfort his people.
So, I guess there is a place for me in all of this. He'll just have to show it to me.
By the time coffee is served, Steve is talking to another man who is just as enthused about the idea of clean water as Steve. He's studying something to do with government and they're making plans to go meet with one of his professors tomorrow, to talk over the matter.
But what about me?
I ask Steve this question back in our room.
He looks up from his suitcase where he was pushing aside clothing, presumably to find something for tomorrow. I think this is the first time he thought about me.
“I dunno,” he says. “Do you want to come?”
I think of myself tagging along behind him on his quest to bring clean water to the slum next to us.
“I think I'd probably just be in the way,” I say.
“No!” he says. “I'd be happy to have you come along!”
But I realize this is the first time he thought about me going with him. In his mind, he was going to be off with his new friend tomorrow and I would be . . . somewhere else.
“I guess I could stay here,” I say.
“I think you'd be safe here,” Steve agrees, going back to his suitcase. He finds a white shirt and shakes it out, as if to get rid of the wrinkles.
At least once the lights are off and we're both in bed, he's back to his usual self. But even there, I wonder if it was just an afterthought!
Mama is not at the breakfast table. But all the students are and there is coffee, tea and some breakfast buns, as well as boiled eggs, some cereal and a large bowl of fruit.
Steve will be leaving right after breakfast with his friend, Eber. They'll be taking a bus into the city. They're the first to head out, Steve giving me a quick kiss while Eber swings a knapsack on his back. I'm left with the other three students, two guys and a girl. The girl gives me a smile, but she is in a hurry too, taking a last gulp of coffee and grabbing a banana before also heading out.
The two young men that remain are talking to each other about some test they're taking that day so they barely even look at me when it's their turn to leave. I'm left sitting at the large table with plates of crumbs and empty mugs.
The young woman that seems to take care of things comes through the beads to the kitchen and begins to clean up.
“Can I help?” I ask, standing up.
She smiles, shakes her head and returns to the kitchen with a pile of plates. I'm left standing there.
I'm about to just go back up the stairs and sit and stare at the walls until Steve returns. But then Mama comes through the living room. There is a door on the other side of the room that she came through.
Mama smiles at me.
“Come see my garden,” she says.
“OK,” I say. Anything's better than the four walls.
I didn't realize it, but that door she came through goes outside. One thing this house is lacking is an abundance of windows. In North America, an outside wall would have windows. But I realize, this arrangement is probably better for security.
We are in a small but very crowded garden. The walls of the garden are a kind of heavy wood board. I can hear people talking on the other side.
There is a tiny stone path running through Mama's garden. She leads me through it, showing me the different vegetables and fruits, as well as naming the flowers that have been planted among them. It's a wild and chaotic arrangement but obviously serves the house well with its abundance. Then we go back inside.
I realize that it's Mama's turn to have her breakfast because the young woman has brought out a fresh pot of coffee and a plate of food. I'm not invited to join Mama, but she tells me to use the living room if I want and to read the books if I like to read.
With Mama at the dining table, I go over to peruse the bookshelf. There are some books written in a language I don't recognize, probably Swahili. There are a couple of books in Arabic. I recognize some French titles, but don’t know enough French to read a whole book. Not for fun, anyhow. About the only substantial chunk of books in English are Agatha Christie novels. I've read some of her stuff because she married an archaeologist and some of her books are set at a dig site. Now I pick out Ten Little Indians.
Most of Mama's furniture is not overly comfortable, but I forget as I get caught up in the story. In fact, the story is so intense that I don't realize that it's lunchtime.
Another plate of food comes out for Mama and I don't know what she's going to do with me. Lunch isn't included. Just as I'm thinking maybe I should go up to my room and quietly starve, Steve arrives back from the college.
At first I think, my knight in shining armour! He remembered that I was stuck here without lunch and has come to take me out.
But as he sits down across from me, all he wants to do is talk about his morning. He and Eber had their meeting with the college professor and although the man was very supportive, the bottom line is, if they are going to do anything, it will have to be through the municipal government and the duly-elected officials, and possibly some grassroots demonstrations. And then maybe, and this was just a maybe, there might be some improvement with the water situation.
And, of course, Steve isn't a citizen so he would have no sway or influence. Also, although he has some money to offer, it would be a minuscule amount compared to what is needed to really fix the problem in any kind of long-term way.
We head up to our room to leave Mama alone with her meal.
Steve is discouraged. And the last thing he's
thinking about is food. I sigh and remember how Mom used to suffer hardship
with a patient smile. I try to do the same for Steve.
teve spends the afternoon musing out loud.
Eber has lent him a book about government in Kenya. Steve is flipping though it and reading passages out loud. I'm very tempted to go back downstairs and get that Agatha Christie. But he genuinely thinks I'm interested in this.
Come to think of it, I don't really know why I'm not. I think it's because when this all started, I took it for granted I'd always have his full attention. In fact, when we first got together, it was like I was his reason for living. But now he's found something else to give his life purpose and I'm just along for the ride.
All the students are back for dinner. And with Steve and Eber talking, they pretty quickly find out that there's a crusade on to bring clean water to the slums next door. All of them have suggestions. Some think the solution is to organize the slum-dwellers and march on the government. Another one says that nothing will be done without funding. There is talk of how to raise money. The conversation continues through all of dinner.
Finally, when the last cup of coffee is being finished, and there are signs that some people are going to return to their rooms, Mama shakes her head and says something that sounds like, “Uh, uh, uh, uh.”
She has been quiet all evening, as have I.
“My children,” she says.
Everyone turns to look at her.
“Steve did not come here to save a community. He came to save people that need saving.”
The students look at one another. Steve's eyes widen.
“Young man,” she says, looking right at him. “You need to find out who it is that needs water.”
She turns and gives me a long look. For one terrifying moment I'm afraid she's going to tell me to smarten up and stop sulking. But her stern look turns into a smile and then she gets up and disappears down a hallway.
There is a general mumble of agreement, maybe sincere, maybe not, but by this time the students are all getting up to return to their rooms and respective studies.
Eber gives Steve an apologetic smile.
“Lots to do tonight,” he says, before going upstairs.
I take Steve's hand. He's deep in thought.
“I think she's right,” he says, turning to me. “I got this idea into my head that I was going to bring water to a whole community. But I can't do that! I don't know anything about the government here and I don't have anywhere near the money that it would take . . .”
He's still thinking out-loud when we're in our room. After a day of hanging around the house, I want to get out and do something. Anything. Sit in Mama's garden, even. But Steve's already pulling off his shirt, grabbing a towel and heading down the hallway to take a shower.
But he returns to the room in an affectionate state of mind and joins me in bed with a sparkle in his eye. Just as he's leaning in for a kiss, there’s a knock at the door. Steve sighs, but gets out of bed, throws a t-shirt on over his boxer shorts and opens the door.
I think he realizes he might have interrupted something because he looks embarrassed, but he says, “I just had an idea.”
“Uh, sure,” says Steve, glancing back at me. He steps out into the hallway. To give me my privacy, I guess. The door shuts behind him and I can hear their voices, but then they move away from the door, probably to talk more in Eber's room. I'm left behind, all alone.
And I'm ticked.
I want my husband back!
I'm tempted to just roll over and go to sleep, as if anyone can sleep while they're in a bad mood.
But then I see Steve's Bible sitting on top of the dresser. It's just sitting there, on an angle, harmless. But it's a powerful reminder.
I groan inwardly.
Steve has changed because of God.
And God has talked to me too.
And as I lay there, staring at that Bible, I realize, I'm not excluded from any of this. This isn't just Steve's mission. It's mine. Where he goes, I'm going too. He can concentrate on water; I can concentrate on people who need comfort. We don't have different missions; we have the same mission, just two different ways of going at it. Tomorrow I won't stay here and read Agatha Christie. I'll go where Steve goes, even if it means back into that terrifying slum.
I'm as cheerful as Steve at breakfast the next morning.
When Steve returned to our room last night, he told me that Eber had another man at the college that might be able to help. They talked it over a bit, but a new vision is starting to form in Steve's mind. He can't bring water to the entire community, but maybe God has sent him to help certain people. Water is available in the slums, it's just not good water. Maybe he can help with filters, or some other way to treat it at the point where the people drink it. Solving the problem from the source is just way too beyond him.
“Beyond us,” I said.
“Yeah,” says Steve grinning. “Sorry, Ginny. Beyond us. I know you want this is much as I do.”
And so my first tiff with Steve ends without him even knowing about it.
Steve wants to talk to Mama after breakfast, ask her more about the slums and whether there's anyone she knows of who could use immediate help.
Mama is surprisingly unhelpful. She imparted her wisdom to Steve, but now has no real desire to do anything further. So we leave her to her breakfast and go upstairs.
“I've been thinking,” says Steve, as we sit down on our chairs. “I remember some missionary organization Dad and Mom used to give their spare change to. They had biosand water filters which they distributed in the areas where you couldn't get clean water. Each unit was cheap, something like $30. Cheap compared to a well, that is. But that's more along the lines of what we could do.”
“Dad used to like the idea,” Steve continues, “because it was a Canadian who invented the filter.”
“Does that mean you can only get them in Canada?”
“Oh no!” says Steve. “They're being used all over the world.” He looks around the room as if he might suddenly see one. “That's the first thing I'll have to do. Find out if we can get a hold of them here.” He's deep in thought.
Here I'm committed to being more helpful to Steve and there's not a thing I can think of to help him. But I guess being helpful is just listening.
“I'll have to go online,” says Steve. “I'm sure there's got to be an internet café in Kisumu. I'm going to call us a cab.”
While Steve's gone, I run a brush through my hair and put on the scarf he bought for me in Gibraltar. Steve returns to the room to report that a cab is on its way and to grab the laptop.
The cab driver is a little uncertain about the idea of an internet café. He's an older man and I figure computers don't affect him too much. But he gets on the radio and calls back to the dispatch centre. After a minute or two, he has an address.
We drive back into the city centre, passing through old and new, green and barren, African and Western, and so much to look at that after a day of being stuck at home, my head is swivelling to take it all in.
The internet café is a run-down establishment but it has a certain charm. The walls are covered in colourful murals. Along one side of the café are the shabby desks with some old monitors. We take a centre table and open up our laptop. The connection to the internet is slow, but soon Steve and I are sipping coffee, eating pastries and reading about biosand water filters.
What interests Steve is a pdf construction manual, outlining everything needed to install a filter. It looks complicated to me, but Steve is reading it intently. I gather that it involves time and tools.
The waiter comes around to ask us if we want another coffee.
We say sure and then Steve impulsively asks him if he knows anything about these water filters.
The young man glances at the screen.
“Yes,” he says, casually. “We have one here.”
Steve and I look at each other in amazement.
“They're common here?” said Steve.
The man nods.
“Where do you get one?”
The man shrugs. Clearly the topic isn't that interesting to him.
“Building supplies. I do not know.”
The waiter goes back to the counter to get our coffees. Come to think of it, I'm glad to hear that the water here is filtered before being turned into coffee.
Now Steve is looking up building supply places in Kisumu. He scribbles down some addresses in the notebook I carry in my purse.
We drink our second cup of coffee while Steve goes back to the pdf document telling you what tools you need to install these things. A whole list gets written down in my notebook.
We're much too far to walk back and Steve doesn't seem inclined to sightsee. (Just as well. Last time he did, we ended up in the hospital.) So we wave down a cab and give the address to Mama's.
“Rats!” says Steve, when we're driving back. “I forgot to check our e-mail.”
E-mail, and the occasional postcard, is the only way we're keeping in touch with our families.
The sun is shining and the sky is blue with white fluffy clouds. I thank God for the serene and beautiful day because once we get back and return the laptop to our room, I know exactly what Steve is going to do. He is going to head for the slums. And if the day were overcast and gloomy, I don't know if I would be able to have a good attitude about the whole thing.
There are no children today. I guess they're off playing soccer.
“Let's go see Kadhi,” says Steve, taking my hand.
“He'll be thrilled to see us,” I say.
“Yeah, he will won't he?”
The slums start off tame enough. The outskirts are less threatening. But the further we move in and the more narrow the roads get, the more people look at us. At first, it's just looking. Not friendly or unfriendly. But then I'm seeing more people who give us hostile looks. It's like a children's book where the kids go further into the woods and it gets darker and gnarlier and soon all the trees look like ghouls.
I glance up at Steve. He's cheerful. He's even whistling. He seems completely untouched by my fears.
I look around and I realize, maybe it is just my fears. After all, a hostile look and a curious look can sometimes be awfully similar. The day is still sunny and bright. We get some attention but nobody says anything and we make it to Kadhi's door without any trouble.
But Kadhi more than makes up for it. His face is like a thundercloud when he answers the door and sees us.
“I told you . . .”
But before he can continue, a woman's voice calls out, “Kadhi! Who is it?”
“Two idiots, mother,” he calls out.
“What do they want?” the voice calls back.
“I don't know, mother,” he says.
A gaunt black woman appears at the doorway and stares at us. But she doesn't have the hostility of her son.
“Well?” she says kindly.
“We've come to ask Kadhi if he can help us,” says Steve politely.
“Help you do what?”
“We want to find out who needs clean water around here,” says Steve.
“I told you already. Everybody.” Kadhi glares at us for having to remind us of this obvious fact.
Steve pauses for a minute, thinking.
“Do you?” he asks.
“No!” says Kadhi, starting to shut the door.
“Then everybody doesn't need water,” says Steve. “I guess what I should have said is, we want to find out who wants clean water around here.”
“I want clean water,” says Kadhi's mother.
“Mother . . .” Kadhi starts.
“Don't argue,” she says to him. “I have been praying to my heavenly Father for clean water.”
Kadhi rolls his eyes.
“Would you like a biosand water filter?” asks Steve.
“What will it cost me?” asks Kadhi's mother.
“It won't cost you anything.”
If Kadhi can roll his eyes further back, he does.
“I told you about these people, mother. They buy a soccer ball and think they're God's gift to us.”
“If they give us clean water, they will be God's gift to us,” says his mother.
Despite Kadhi's opposition to the whole thing, Steve tells his mother that we will be back in a few days. She says, come by anytime.
“Well, that's it,” says Steve, as we're walking away. “Now I just have to get a filter, read a bit more about how to install it, buy everything I need to install it . . .”
I take his hand.
“I'm sure you'll do fine,” I say.
“Thanks for the confidence,” he says. “But I'm suddenly realizing that I actually have to do this.”
The walk back is not uneventful.
We're moving briskly along the street – most people walk on the street and reluctantly get out of the way for the occasional car – when a man starts yelling at us in another language. I'm frozen with horror and I don't think Steve really has any plan of action.
The man pulls out a knife and waves it in Steve's face.
“Jesus!” I say. It sounds like I'm cursing but it's more of a very terrified plea. The man continues to wave the knife and I continue to say “Jesus!” (although I only really remember this later). Steve might be contemplating some kind of physical action, but then the man just seems to lose steam and disappear down the alleyway that he came from.
I don't even feel like talking for the next five minutes.
“Well,” says Steve cheerfully. “We survived.”
I am not entirely sure that's a big accomplishment. We didn't actually do anything.
The next day is spent taking a cab around to various building supply stores. We're not talking Home Depot or Canadian Tire here. We're talking some guy's warehouse made of corrugated iron or an open outside area fenced in with barbed wire and guarded by a dog. But the waiter at the café is right. Biosand water filters are available.
Equally as important are the tools and the additional materials to install the filter. We'll need a cab just to get it all out to Kadhi's home.
When we get back, it's an hour til dinner and Mama is nice enough to let us stick the boxed filter in one of her closets rather than us having to haul it up to our room. The tools, in their brand-new silver toolbox, Steve feels would be safer in our room. They were a big investment.
I notice Steve is quiet at dinner. He's no longer soliciting input about bringing clean water to the slums and the conversation moves around all over the place. The students talk about upcoming elections in the country, a big soccer match coming up with another African country, whether it's better to be rich and selfish or poor and noble, whether any of them will be able to afford to travel during school break and which cell-phone company is offering the best rates.
That night, Steve settles into our bed . . . and
turns all his attention to the laptop and the biosand
filter's installation manual that he downloaded. I forgive him and lie there,
trying to sleep rather than thinking about men with knives that don't like foreigners.
hen I come out of the house I find Steve arguing with the cab driver. The cab driver doesn't want to take us into the slums.
Eber, coming out of the house on his way to college, explains. If you want to go into the slums, you call a cab driver who operates in the slums. Most cab drivers on the outside don't want to venture in. Our ride from the station was obviously one of the brave few.
Fine, says Steve, he'll call for a cab from the slums. But in the meantime, the cab driver in front of him wants some kind of payment for making the trip out. Steve sighs and pulls some Kenyan shillings out of his pocket. Then it's back inside to make another phone call.
That gives me time to go to the bathroom and pull my hair back into a ponytail.
The new cab arrives, a very dilapidated vehicle, and Steve loads it up with his supplies. The walk to Kadhi's house took about half an hour. It takes almost as long to drive there since most people walking on the street ignore the few cars attempting to drive the narrow dirt roads. Still, I feel safer behind glass and there's no way we could have carried all our stuff.
Kadhi is not happy to see us, but since he's heading out, we are only on the receiving end of his disapproval for about five minutes. Besides, we hardly notice. The house is crowded today. There are five small children running around outside the house, but they all follow us into the house.
We are led by his mother down the hallway to a larger room. The inside of the house is dark. It takes me a few minutes to realize that it’s because there are only some small barred windows and there are no electric lights on. There are some pieces of wood furniture in the living room, as well as some African-style wall hangings. A kitchen runs off the living room and that's where Kadhi's mother leads Steve.
What strikes me about this house is that at one time it was obviously a reasonably nice house. But now the floor is sagging, the walls need painting and the few appliances are ancient. What's disturbing about this scenario is that there was a time when this family was doing OK. What changed? It makes me think that if it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.
The children who have been both milling and bouncing around, opt to watch Steve. He doesn't mind although he does signal for them to keep back a bit. The filter is heavy and positioning it won't be easy.
Steve is left to figure out where the filter will go and how to get it to where it will go. Kadhi's mother motions for me to join her back in the living room.
We sit down and look at each other. For a moment I'm terrified by the situation. It's so unreal. Why am I sitting in the dismal living room of an African woman who I don't know while my husband is in the kitchen doing something he's never done before?
Then I remember God's words in the hospital. Comfort my people. And it comes back to me that Kadhi's mother said something about praying for clean water.
“So, you're a Christian?” I say, trying to sound pleasant and not strained.
She was just watching me but now she smiles widely.
“Yes, yes,” she nods. “And you?”
I nod. I can tell that English is her second language, so hopefully it will be enough to last the length of time it takes Steve to install a biosand water filter. I sure don't know any Swahili.
There is a long pause.
“So, it's hard to find clean water here?” I ask. I almost blush I sound so dumb. But Kadhi's mother becomes animated.
“Yes, yes!” she says. “We have water, yes. But not clean. It makes our stomachs go . . .” She rubs her stomach in a rather frantic way. I get the idea. “Children even die. I have been praying to God for clean water. Kadhi is my youngest child, but I take care of my grandchildren too. I want to give them clean water.”
I can hear the grandchildren in the kitchen laughing and talking while they watch Steve.
“I'm glad we could be the answer to your prayer,” I say sincerely.
“Where are you from?” she asks.
I tell her I'm from Canada. I try to ask her questions about her life but she doesn’t seem interested. She keeps asking me about mine and somehow that leads to the whole story of my life. Kadhi's mother listens with great interest as I tell her about all the different places I've been to with my parents. She gets to hear about the treasure we found in Tadmor, the sketch of Jesus in England, our trip to explore a cave in the Czech Republic, our search for the sword of Goliath, our time in Nablus when we found a buried fortune, and most recently, our trip to Baghdad where we ended up as hostages.
She likes the idea that my dad is an archaeologist who believes the Bible and concentrates on artifacts that uphold its authenticity.
I think I must be talking too much so I try to ask her about Kadhi and his soccer, but she wants to know about how Steve and I got together. So that gets me going on The Walls of Jerusalem project that we worked on together and how Steve's grandfather saw that we loved adventure and decided that he would leave us all of his mother's money so that we could follow in her steps and see if there was any unfinished business in her mission work.
“Praise God! Praise God!” she says, clapping her hands. “Very good!”
Throughout my story I could hear Steve and the children. He's teaching them all sorts of simple songs, like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Frére Jacques. But now they are hungry so Kadhi's mother gets up to give them some lunch. I go into the kitchen to see if I can help.
Steve's tools are all over the floor and everything looks chaotic.
But he smiles and assures me he knows what he's doing.
I'm painfully aware of the possibilities of eating lunch here. I can feel my stomach coming down with some intestinal disorder after eating something cooked in water. But lunch turns out to be extremely limited. The children get some fruit and a slice of bread each. Kadhi's mother offers to make something for me, but I can tell by the shelves that whatever it would be, I would be taking food out of her mouth later on. I assure her that I'm in the habit of only eating breakfast and dinner and am quite fine.
She and I return to the living room. Not everyone in Kisumu lives as well as Mama and her students. Whereas Mama is plump, this woman has the figure of a supermodel. Except that, of course, Kadhi's mother is not trying to be fashionable.
I'm thinking that we've run out of things to talk about. But Kadhi's mother gets out an old Bible and we start talking about Jesus. She loves talking about Jesus, she says, but she can't go to church. There is no church close by and besides, she is usually taking care of her grandchildren.
Hearing Kadhi's mother talk about Jesus, and how much she loves Him, I realize that He is all she has. She has no husband, no one to take care of her. She depends entirely on God. It's sobering. I mean, I know God's important and He's always been in my life, but I've never really had to totally rely on Him. There was always Mom and Dad to take care of things, and now Steve, but Kadhi's mother has none of the things I have. I feel like a real brat.
I thought I was a nice person and a pretty good representative of God, but now I see that Kadhi's mother is really the one who knows Him and is representing Him in this slum. I'm not sure why God would want me to comfort His people. I mean, who am I?
But then I hear Steve and the children in the kitchen singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and I know what I'm supposed to get out of this. Our money isn't our own. It's to comfort God's people. I guess, gone are the days when I'll think of myself first and everyone else second.
“Your grandchildren are lovely singers,” I say, leaning forward in my hard chair.
Kadhi's mother's face shines.
“I teach them to sing songs about Jesus,” she says. “They do not learn them with their mother.”
This is the first time she's mentioned any children other than Kadhi.
“Are there many Christians in Kenya?” I ask.
She nods and tells me how there are many churches in Kenya and she grew up going to the Anglican one, but that was when she lived in . . . and she names a place I've never heard of.
I tell her there are a lot of churches in Canada too, but most people don't actually go.
“Why is that?” she asks.
I think about this.
“I guess it's because they're doing other things,” I say.
“Ahhh,” she says nodding. “The people that do not have fruit. Like Jesus talked about.”
I nod, remembering all the stories Jesus told about plants and being fruitful. Like the parable about the seed scattered by the farmer that gets choked by weeds so that it doesn't produce fruit. When we were little, Mom encouraged me and my sister to each plant a little garden. I was pretty diligent with mine and ended up with some tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as a whole bunch of flowers. But Julia just let hers go and even though we had bought the plants from the garden centre, there were so many weeds in the garden that none of them got big enough to produce any fruit. Mom told us that's how many Christians are. The weeds are the cares and concerns of the world.
A thought occurs me.
“Do you have a garden?” I ask.
She shakes her head, no. She explains that though she has a bit of land out back, she has never had the tools to start a real garden.
I nod as an exciting idea comes to my mind. Mama's garden is so productive. If Kadhi's mother had a garden, food would be available for her and her grandchildren.
The kids come out of the kitchen, sad to report that Steve is packing up his tools. The biosand water filter is not ready to go because Steve forgot to buy a spigett or something that sounds like spigett. So we're going to have to get a hold of one and come back tomorrow.
Kadhi's mother doesn't have a phone but Kadhi has a cell phone. At some point, he returned home but didn't bother to come into the living room. We use his cell phone, while he glares at us, to call back the cab driver that brought us here.
“So,” says Steve, running a tired hand through his slightly damp hair. We're in the back seat of the cab and heading back to the part of town that has the building supply places. “I think I'm getting the hang of it. It should only take part of tomorrow to finish it off.”
“You were certainly busy,” I say. “Working and singing.”
“They're good kids,” he says. “They made the time go by faster. I'm glad they liked singing the same songs over and over.”
We get Steve's spigett, if that's what it is, and then I surprise Steve by asking the cab driver if there's someplace nearby that sells gardening tools. He nods and I lean back in the seat.
“I want to get stuff so that she can start a garden,” I explain. “Tools, seeds, stuff like that.”
“That's a great idea!” says Steve. “Actually, the clean water will help too. I read that at one of the sites. The crops did better with the water from the biosand filter.”
The cab driver waits for us as we go into a place that doesn't look much different from a gardening supply centre in Canada. I'm not sure what to get, but I figure it's better to err on the side of buying some useless tools than failing to buy the essential ones. Since Steve grew up in an apartment and never had a garden, he's not too sure either. But we do our best.
We load up on seeds so that Kadhi's mother can have a pick of what she wants to plant. Impulsively, I also grab a small orange tree in a bucket.
We leave the gardening centre loaded down and climb back into the cab. Arriving back at Mama's just as dinner is starting, carrying tools and an orange tree, causes a bit of a stir. The students are laughing as we take our purchases upstairs. I'm beginning to realize that they think we're very strange.
We come back downstairs and take our seats at the table. I look down at my plate of some kind of stew. There are beans and corn and potatoes and spinach, all served with a slice of meat and a side dish of rice. Kadhi and his mother won't be eating this well tonight.
Eber asks us why we need an orange tree.
I explain that it's a gift. But that's about it for us. The rest of the talk at the table is about the World Cup. There are discussions about past World Cup games and a lot of talk about how in some previous year Kenya was banned from playing in FIFA. I don't really follow it and have to ask Steve later what FIFA is. He says it's the world's soccer organization.
We're both exhausted and fall asleep after dinner.
Kadhi's mother is overwhelmed by the gift of gardening tools. At first she can't accept it and tells me it's too much and then I remind her that that's what Steve and I do, help people, and then she nods and murmurs that, “God is good.”
Steve returns to the kitchen with the kids all following along behind.
I suggest to Kadhi's mother that we start the garden right away. I want to help her with it. She has tears in her eyes as she nods.
She's very practical. She says the orange tree will go in the front so that it won't shade the garden. It doesn't take long for us to dig a hole large enough for the small tree to go in. Then we head through the house to a small backyard. Like Mama's, it has a privacy fence around it, suggesting that at one time it may have been a nice place to sit out in.
Kadhi's mother knows what to do. She says we have bought way too many seeds, but she grins as she says it. She shows me where to start and together we overturn the dirt in the backyard. There wasn't much greenery so it's just a matter of loosening the soil. But it's not easy. It's pretty packed down.
Kadhi appears at the back door and just watches us. I'm hoping he'll actually come out and help. But all he does is kind of sigh, shrug and walk away. It's an improvement over glaring, I guess.
We work all morning on the garden. It's exhausting and by lunchtime, I'm starving. I'm also desperate for a drink. Which is why I'm so grateful that Steve announces he's done. All that's left is to put away his tools and explain how the whole thing works. Kadhi's mother feeds her grandchildren and then gives him all her attention.
Steve shows where you put the water in and Kadhi's mother gets some water from a tap. It's a horrible colour, sort of brown and obviously not fit to drink. If you were in Canada, anyway. Steve pours about a bucket's worth of it into the biosand filter and we wait. It takes a minute or two for the water to make its way through, but when it comes out, I'm shocked. It's as clear as anything I'm used to drinking.
Steve hands the first cup to Kadhi's mother but she passes it to me.
I take a deep breath and drink. It tastes fine.
I nod and smile. Then we all smile and have a glass of water. The kids are all excited and want some water too. Then Kadhi comes into the kitchen. Steve hands him a cup of water and Kadhi hesitates. Then he takes it and looks at it. It's obvious he's taking in the enormous difference between this water and the water he's used to. He drinks.
We all watch him.
His response is to kind of grunt. Then he hands the cup to his mother and leaves.
That cup of water is our lunch and in the afternoon, we go back out and all finish up the garden. By the time we're done, we've planted rows of lettuce, cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, peas, and beans. Plus, there are plenty of unopened packages of seeds for the future.
It's really hard saying good-bye to Kadhi's mother and the kids. We promise that we'll be back for a visit before we leave Kenya.
On the cab ride back (Kadhi actually volunteers his phone for the call to the dispatch centre) I remark that maybe we should have asked Kadhi's mother if she knows of anyone else who needs a biosand water filter.
“I know what you mean,” says Steve. “In fact, I was just about to do it, when something stopped me.”
“God?” I say.
“I dunno,” he says, putting his arm around my extremely tired shoulders. “A hesitation. Yeah, God I guess.”
It's almost dinner when we arrive back and the smell of the food nearly makes me faint, I'm so hungry. I'm equally as tired and part of me wants to go straight upstairs and sleep.
Mama sees us when we come in and suggests we have a cup of coffee with her before dinner. The girl brings us a pot of coffee in the living room and Steve and I each accept a cup with gratitude. It's the best coffee I've had.
“Now,” she says. “Tell me what you have been doing.”
It's almost an order as much as it is a conversation starter.
Steve laughs and tells her how he learned to install a biosand water filter. He makes light of the aspect of us helping and just treats it like a learning experience. I take the same tone and say I've learned a bit more about gardening.
Mama's eyes sparkle. We don't fool her for a moment.
“Would you like to install a water filter in a school?” she asks.
Steve and I look at each other.
“Sure!” says Steve.
“I know the lady who runs it,” explains Mama. “She has about seventy-five children. It is a nursery school.”
“Younger children, then?” I say.
“Near here. There is not a lot of government funding for the slums. So the school is not in the best condition.”
“But it's good that there is a school,” I say.
“They do their best. It keeps the children from being in the streets.”
“We'd be happy to do it,” says Steve. “I'm just going to have to get another filter.”
“I will tell them that you will be there when you can.” She stands up. It's dinner time and the students are coming down from their rooms.
Eber makes a passing reference to our orange tree and I tell him that it has been planted. He asks who it was for and I tell him that it was for a lady in the slums. Eber thinks about this and says, when it is fully grown there should be enough fruit for her to eat and for her to sell.
Thinking of Kadhi's mother having fruit leftover to sell is a pleasant thought as I look down at my full plate of food.
nother morning is spent purchasing a biosand water filter and the additional supplies needed to install it. But since we already have the tools, it's a shorter expedition all around. We take the cab straight to the address Mama has given us.
It's about 11:00 when we arrive and the nursery school is in full swing. Mama was right. There are about seventy-five children. But there are only two adults, a young man and a young woman. They are both Kenyan and both come forward with a broad smile when we introduce ourselves. They are Karimu and Basma. Karimu helps Steve bring in all the heavy items from the cab. Basma leads me into the centre of the action and right away, I know there won't be a boring minute as long as we're at the nursery school.
The conditions are rough – concrete walls and floors, with a few carpets to soften the effect. The small tables and chairs are made of wood but look old. The walls are covered with colouring pages and that cheers things up a bit.
Basma is in the middle of doing some songs with the kids. There are a lot of hand motions and pretty soon I'm trying to keep up. I already have a small circle of children all around me, laughing (with me, I hope) as I try to sing in what is probably Swahili. But we do English songs too and I'm on more solid ground there. I'm surprised that many of them are about Jesus.
After the songs there is story time. The kids sit on the carpets and Basma reads them a story, again, about Jesus. It's about the time he entered Jerusalem on a donkey while the children praised him.
When the story is finished, the kids go to their small tables and chairs and Basma asks if I would like to help her serve the food. Of course, I agree.
It's a one-room building and she leads me to a corner that has a sink and hands me a jug and a can of powdered drink. I'm to mix half a cup of powder with enough water to fill the jug. Steve and Karimu are nearby, going through the installation manual together. Unlike at Kadhi's mother's home, Karimu is going to be an active participant in the installation.
I turn the tap on and the water that comes out is as brown as it was at Kadhi's mother's place. I look at Basma to see her reaction. Should I really use this water for the children's drink?
But Basma is busy carrying plates of fruit and what looks like bowls of beans to the children's tables.
I look at Steve but he is too busy with his manual.
So I grimace, say a prayer and make the drink. I'm so glad this will be the last day that they have to drink brown water.
Again, I notice that like Kadhi's mother, Basma and Karimu don't bother to eat lunch. But Basma and I sit down at one of tables and talk a bit. She asks me a few questions, but admits that Mama has told her a bit about us. We're Canadian. We like to do good things. We're probably Christian.
I laugh and say, “That sums it up.”
Then I ask her about the nursery school. She says that she and Karimu met when they were sponsored children in a Christian program that helped children from poor families. After they finished the program, they both got their teaching degrees. At first, they had planned to get married and both take up teaching jobs in a more prosperous area. But God had led them to start this nursery school instead.
“We live by faith,” says Basma. “Our parents want to know when they will be grandparents, but we cannot have children now,” she says shaking her head ruefully. “I try to tell them they have eighty-two grandchildren here, but to them, it is not the same.” Basma smiles at the tables of eating children. “But for me, it is as if they are my own.”
“I know what you mean,” I say. “I don't think Steve and I will be having children for a while. But I'm starting to realize that there's a lot more to life . . .” I drift off as I look around at all the children.
“I know what you mean,” says Basma, sympathetically.
After lunch, we have some outdoor games. There are some battered soccer balls and the kids who don't want to play with those are led by Basma in some simple dance routines. I try out the dance routines and find they require a lot of coordination. The kids have it, but I need some work. At least I'm amusing for them to watch. There's a lot of giggling all around me.
When the kids are just having free time, I notice that their basic toys are sticks and stones. They're very imaginative with them though. Sticks can be anything from people to offensive weapons. Stones are used to build mini walls and for some of the slightly older children, seem to be used as game pieces.
“Would it help if I bought some toys for them?” I ask Basma. She and I are just supervising now.
She shakes her head pleasantly.
“It would just give them things to fight over,” she says. “And when they break, the children would be heartbroken. If you want to give, books would be better.”
“English, Swahili?” I ask.
“Very simple reading stories. I try to help them get started with their reading. For some of them, their education will be very limited.”
When we go back inside, we find that with his previous experience and with Karimu's help, the biosand water filter project is almost complete. I'm glad because the kids get more of the powdered drink after their outdoor time and I can hardly stand to mix the brown water in.
There are colouring pages to finish off the day. I help a little girl make a pink castle with a blue pony out front. She's very proud of the picture, especially when Basma tapes it up on the wall.
Some parents come to get their children, but the other children stay late. Basma explains that she and Karimu personally walk home the children who don't have anyone pick them up. Today, we go with them.
Walking through the slums with Karimu and Basma and about twenty children is not a scary experience. But it is depressing. The homes that the children live in range from teetering on the edge of poverty all the way down to places that North Americans wouldn't put their gardening tools in, never mind live in. Tired-looking parents hug their children, but some of them are left at a home that seems to have nobody in them. I feel sick at the thought of leaving a four-year-old to look after himself. But Karimu has a ring of keys and opens the door and gently nudges the child inside before locking the door back up. I'm in tears by the time we're back at the school.
Karimu and Basma have to do this everyday, but Steve notices how miserable I am and puts an arm around me.
“It's so awful,” I murmur as Karimu and Basma are off in the corner looking at the new water filter.
“I know, I know,” he says, giving my shoulder a squeeze before joining Karimu and Basma.
It's not as dramatic as the first time, but it's still exciting to see brown water turn into clear water and Karimu and Basma are thrilled. Not only will it benefit the children, but it can bless the community too. Parents who stop by can get some clean water when they pick their children up.
I think about all the people who don't stop by now. Maybe having clean water at the school will encourage them to pick up their children in person.
We say good-bye but I promise Basma I'll be back with some books.
She thanks me and hugs me while Steve and Karimu shake hands.
The ride back in the cab is quiet. Steve is tired and I can't stop thinking about those little children alone in their homes.
It turns out to be easier to find a biosand water filter in Kisumu than a bookstore with easy children's books. Our cab driver takes us to several bookstores but none of them have the kind of books I want. I'm almost ready to give up and go online for something when the driver says he knows of only one other bookstore, but it's Christian. He doesn't sound like he enjoys saying the word.
But I reply, “That's fine” and off we go.
It turns out that the bookstore is beside a large Catholic Church.
Thankfully it has a children's section. The books aren't exactly at the early reader level but I think they're simple enough to be of some use to Basma. I pick out a complete series of books, covering pretty much every major story in the Bible. Then I notice that they have some Baby Bibles and I grab a few of those too.
It's the middle of the afternoon by the time we get back to the slums. We arrive at the school during the outdoor time. This time Karimu is out there playing soccer with some of the boys. Basma is doing chalk drawings on the walls of the school with some the girls. We leave the books inside and join them. I end up doing a floral arrangement on part of the wall while Steve gets to be a goalie.
When we go inside, Basma sees the books and gives me a grateful smile. The kids want to read them right away. Basma distributes them among the children so that even if they can't read the words, they can check out the pictures. Eventually, groups form around the adults and Steve ends up reading Noah's Ark to one of them, while I do Jonah with another. Basma is helping some of the kids sound out words in the Baby Bibles. Karimu is reading a story about the miracles of St. Peter.
When it's time to take the kids home who don't have parents picking them up, I give Steve a pleading look. He understands. It's just too emotionally draining to go through that again. If there was anything I could do, I would feel like a coward for not wanting to go along, but my mind is blank as to what to do to help. These children belong to other people. It's not like I can adopt them all and take them back to Canada.
Steve tells Karimu and Basma that we have plans for the evening so we have to be heading out.
That surprises me.
When the cab comes, instead of telling it to take us to Mama's, Steve asks him to take us to the internet café.
“I want to check our e-mail,” he explains. “Then while we're there, we can look up a good restaurant to try out.”
“That's a nice idea,” I say, snuggling closer to him.
“It's kind of been hard the last few days,” he says, putting his arm around me.
The internet café is more crowded than it was on our first visit. Since we didn't bring our laptop, we have to drink a cup of coffee while we wait for a monitor to become available. When it does, Steve logs into our e-mail account and we read the several messages waiting for us. We start with the older ones and I laugh at Julia's plaintiff plea for me to return home. Steve groans at her rather lengthy description of all the things she's been doing with Glen, his brother, and how wonderful Glen is and how Glen is so cute, so smart, so sensitive, so interesting, so exciting.
Steve says he doesn't understand how a schmuck like Glen can inspire such devotion.
The emails get more recent until finally Steve is reading one sent by his father only yesterday.
Steve's face goes serious. I’m stirring more sugar into my second coffee but I look at the screen to see what’s the matter.
“It's Grandpa,” Steve says. “He's in the hospital.”
e'll have to go back,” I say, forgetting all about my coffee.
Steve nods as he reads.
“It doesn't sound too serious. I mean, Dad says he's had a mild heart attack.”
“Still . . .” I say.
“I know,” says Steve, his eyes on the screen. “He's pretty old. I don't want to be over here . . .”
It's hard to say the words out loud. If Grandpa dies.
He's the one who gave us the money to do what we're doing. He's the one who understood that Steve and I needed a life of adventure.
Steve is already looking up airline schedules. The Kisumu airport doesn't have international flights, but we can take a small plane run by a local company to Nairobi. From there we can change to British Airways which will take us home to Toronto via London.
Our flight doesn't leave until late tomorrow, but after the news from home, we don't feel like a special dinner out. Steve glances at his watch. We've missed Mama's dinner. The café has some kind of meat pastries, as well as the sweet pastries. So we move back to a centre table and each have one while we talk about our time in Kenya.
It seems like we didn't do much here. At the same time, staying here while Grandpa is in the hospital is unthinkable.
It's dark when we get back to Mama's, but Steve goes around from room to room saying good-bye to everyone while I start to pack. Word comes to Mama that we're leaving tomorrow and she comes into our room.
“So soon, child?” she asks, sitting down on one of the chairs.
I nod and sit on the bed.
“Steve's grandfather is in the hospital,” I explain. “We just got the e-mail today.”
Mama looks serious.
“Family is family,” she says after a minute of thought. Then she gets up and leaves the room.
I go back to the packing.
We make it an early night. Neither of us is in a romantic mood.
We use the morning to say good-bye to our friends in Kisumu.
First stop is the school. Basma and Karimu are surprised that we are leaving so soon. But they understand when we explain about Steve's grandfather. We get lots of hugs from Basma and the kids and a handshake from Karimu.
“There's only one thing I'm worried about,” says Steve as Karimu walks us back out to our cab. “I installed a water filter in the home of another Christian lady. If she ever has trouble with it, like if I didn't install it properly . . .”
Karimu smiles and pats him on the back.
“Give her my number,” he says, writing his cell-phone number down on a piece of paper from a small notepad in his pocket. He hands it to Steve. “I will come if she ever needs any work done on it.”
“Thanks so much,” says Steve gratefully.
We get back in the cab and take our one last trip though the slums.
Kadhi's mother answers the door. Her smile fades when we tell her our reason for the visit.
“I am so sad you are going,” she says.
“We're sorry too,” says Steve. “Our flight leaves in a couple of hours. But I just wanted to make sure everything's fine with the filter.”
“Oh yes, it is,” she assures us.
“In case you ever need help with it, this is the number of a Christian man named Karimu,” says Steve, handing her the piece of paper. “He has a water filter too and he could help you.”
“Oh, bless you!” she says, taking the paper. There are hugs and some tears. Then the children come to the door and there are more hugs. Steve even does one more Itsy Bitsy Spider with them.
Then we say our good-byes again and head back to the cab.
I turn back to wave as we drive away and my most poignant memory of Kenya will be Kadhi's mother standing and waving to me beside her new orange tree.
I'm sitting by Grandpa's hospital bed holding his hand.
We've been back in Canada for three days. I almost said, we've been home for three days. But I'm not sure this is our home anymore. As wonderful as it is to see Mom and Dad and Julia and Steve's family, I think I left my heart in Kenya.
Grandpa is going to be fine although he's not very pleased that everybody's fussing over him. He won't admit it, but he's thrilled to see me and Steve and hear all of the things we've been doing since we got married. He's made Steve tell the stories of Gibralter, Zanzibar and Kenya at least two times. Our emails were just a brief outline of our activities, so this gives us a chance to fill in all the details.
While in the hospital, he's been reading a history of the British Empire. In the chapter about Kenya it talks about how the railroad from the coast to Kisumu was completed in 1901. Because part of the railway passed through Uganda, the eastern section of the country was added to Kenya to keep the railway under the colonial administration. The result was called the East Africa Protectorate.
At one time, it wouldn't have meant much, but it's interesting history now that we've actually been on that railroad.
Our parents don't know what to do with us. They want to treat us like their children, but at the same time, we're adults now.
When Steve's mother finds out he was hospitalized (we never mentioned that in our emails!) she gasps and I can tell she wants to bundle him all up and take him home and never let him leave the country again.
Out in the hallway of the hospital, Mom asks me what I think of married life. I laugh and say I think it's great but I've been too busy to think about it much. Mom looks at me with concern. I can tell she is hesitant about all that we're doing. On one hand, it's serving God. On the other hand, it's taking us to some scary places. But even so, she and Dad have spent their lives doing things that probably seemed scary to their parents.
While we're in Canada, we're officially staying at Grandpa's home. But it's a long way from his house to the hospital in Toronto so we've been alternating between my parent's place in Etobicoke and Steve's parent's apartment by Lake Ontario. It's not the best for romance, but Julia is thrilled to be able to talk to me in person. She basically ignores Steve and monopolizes me when I'm there. But Steve understands. Glen is over at my parent's place so much that it gives him a lot of time to catch up with his younger brother.
But then the doctor announces that Grandpa is free to go home.
It's not that simple, though. Since he did have a mild heart attack, he's going to have to watch what he eats and he's going to preferably be living close to family. That's where Grandpa nearly has another heart attack.
He is so adamant that he will return to his home in Midland and not move in with Steve's family, which is what they want him to do. They insist that they have Steve's old room for him and he'll love looking at the lake.
“Look at the lake!” snorts Grandpa. “Just sit and look at the lake until I die, I suppose!”
Steve's mother insists that she'll be able to feed him healthy food.
“Lettuce for the rest of my life!” groans Grandpa.
“C'mon Pa,” says Steve's dad. “You know it's the only way.”
At this point the doctor comes in and sees how stirred up he is. She insists that he can have no further visitors for the day and in fact, she's going to keep him here for another night. We are all ushered into the hallway.
“Mr. Lineman's future is going to have to be discussed very carefully,” the doctor says to Steve's parents. “It's a sensitive issue and it has to be approached as such.”
“My father is such a stubborn man that if we let him have his own way, he'll be back at his place, chopping wood in the winter and snacking on onion rings,” says Steve's dad.
Steve takes my arm and tilts his head toward a quiet hallway.
When we're alone he says, “What do you think, Ginny?” I know what he's going to say. I've been thinking about it myself.
“We could stay with Grandpa,” I say.
“Would that be OK with you?” he asks.
“I'd love it,” I say. “You know I love your grandfather.”
He gives me a big grin.
“Let's tell them then.”
We go back to where Steve's parents are still in earnest conversation with the doctor.
“It's OK,” Steve announces. “We'll live with Grandpa.”
They all look at us.
Steve's father shakes his head but his mom looks hopeful. I think she likes the idea of keeping Steve out of the slums of Kenya.
“Good luck controlling him,” says Steve's dad.
“I don't think I could either,” says Steve grinning. “But with Ginny and I there, we could keep an eye on him.”
“What about you, Ginny?” says Steve's mom, concerned. “It would mean cooking him healthy meals.”
“I make a pretty good bagged salad,” I say.
Steve's dad groans but Steve laughs as he puts his arm around me.
“We'll do OK. Don't worry, guys,” he says to his parents.
His parents collectively sigh.
“Well, I think we have a solution,” says the doctor, looking at us. “I have a feeling you guys won't be as hard on him as you should be, but he'll be happy and that will go a long way in keeping him healthy and out of trouble.”
Steve and I return to tell Grandpa that, with his permission, we'd be happy to stay with him.
He looks hesitant.
“I sent you kids on an adventure. I don't like the idea of being the one to put a stop to all that.”
“You think living with you won't be an adventure?” says Steve, grinning. “In any case, it doesn't matter. We've already decided.”
“What about you, young lady?” says Grandpa turning to me. “Will you be forcing me to eat carrots? I don't like carrots.”
“I don't even know how to cook, Grandpa.”
“That's great!” beams Grandpa. “I do. I'll teach you everything. I make a mean chili. And I'll show you my famous cheese omelette. Oh, and have you ever tried homemade onion rings . . . ?
nd so ends our British Empire adventure.
At least for now. Steve still has the memory of his hospital vision and knows that there are people who need us and people we will help in the future. But for now, we both know we're in the right place.
Steve's grandfather is getting stronger and healthier every day. He is teaching me to cook and I'm trying to make sure we have salads and vegetables in addition to his homemade hamburgers and his spaghetti deluxe. No carrots though.
Steve and I read the remainder of Elsie's diary. We read between the sparse lines and gather that she also helped the poor in Kenya, staying there right up to the time that she met her husband. She was on a short trip to Mombasa to pick up supplies and he was on a passenger ship to Australia, an Englishman hoping to make a good life for himself in a new land. Instead, after meeting Elsie, they decided to go back and make a life in Canada.
She was 45-years-old when she had her first and only child, Steve's grandfather.
One summer day I wake up feeling nauseous. I feel awful!
My first thought is that it was Grandpa's chili last night. I managed to convince him to toss some vegetables into it, but his method also involves using three kinds of beans and two kinds of meat.
“What's the matter?” asks Steve.
“I think I'm going to throw up,” I say.
Steve looks concerned. All of us have been healthy.
Steve tells me to stay in bed. He'll get up and have breakfast with Grandpa. Grandpa loves oatmeal for breakfast which the doctor says is great for the heart. She doesn't know how much brown sugar he loads onto it.
I stay in bed for about half an hour but then the feeling of nausea passes and I join Steve and Grandpa in the kitchen. I put the kettle on and make myself some tea while Steve tells me he's glad I'm better. We were all planning on playing bocce ball this morning, anything to keep Grandpa active.
In the afternoons, Grandpa is teaching Steve how to do wood carvings. He's getting really good at it. His deer now actually look like deer instead of dogs or sheep.
Another wave of nausea hits me at lunchtime. I look down at my cheese omelette and can't stand the sight of it. Steve is back to be concerned and tells me to take it easy. I go into the living room and let Steve have my lunch.
I pick up a magazine from the coffee table and start flipping through it, except that I don't take any of it in. A thought has occurred to me. Mom went through something like this . . .
After lunch I tell Steve I'm going to take a walk into town.
“I need some fresh air,” I say.
“Do you want company?” Steve asks.
I shake my head. This is something I want to do alone. I don't want Steve knowing anything until I'm certain.
“OK,” he says. “Be careful,” he adds as I head for the door, grabbing my purse from the coat-rack.
There are a lot of engaging places to visit in town but there's only one stop for me today, the drugstore. I purchase what I came for and return home to find Steve and Grandpa enthusiastically discussing a new wood carving project they are going to launch on -- a chess set. It will be a surprise for Steve's dad who loves chess. Steve will do the white pieces and his grandfather will do the black pieces. It will have a native theme with a totem pole for the castle and a chief and his squaw for the king and queen. I leave them to their ambitious plans and head to the small bathroom.
I can barely believe my eyes when both the blue and red lines appear in the window of my pregnancy test. I'm pregnant.
Back in the living room, I decide the good news can wait until dinner. Steve and his grandfather are too busy making sketches of what all their chess pieces are going to look like.
I step through the glass doors into the backyard.
Mine and Steve's! What kind of child will he or she be? Any child of Steve’s is bound to be fascinating. What kind of father will Steve be? I don’t need to think about that one. He'll be great. I remember how good he was with the orphans in Zanzibar and the grandchildren at Kadhi's mother's house and the kids at the nursery school.
With such big news, the afternoon passes slowly. I stroll down to the lake and back. The next people to know after Steve and Grandpa will be Mom and Dad, of course.
Mom and Dad will be grandparents! I can hardly imagine my active, energetic parents as grandparents!
And what will Julia say?
She'll be so jealous she'll probably force Glen to marry her right away. But I think she'll make a wonderful aunt.
I volunteer to make dinner just to pass the time. Plus, I want to make something that appeals to me.
Salad seems inoffensive. I get a bagged salad out of the fridge. For some reason I crave mashed potatoes, so I make those. Then suddenly I really want toasted cheese on bread, so I broil up a batch of cheese on bread. I take it all out to the table where Steve and his grandfather are now waiting for dinner.
They look at the strange meal. Then they look at me.
“I'm pregnant,” I explain.
Steve's jaw drops. Grandpa nods.
“I suspected as much,” he says. “It's the wrong time of year for the flu.”
But Steve hasn't recovered.
“Really Ginny?” he says, finally. “Are you sure?”
“As sure as I can be,” I say.
He thinks about this and then he grins, the biggest grin I've ever seen.
“This is . . . great!”
He gets up and actually whirls me around.
“Careful,” says his grandfather reaching for some toasted cheese.
“That's right!” says Steve, putting me down. He leads me to a chair and gently eases me into it.
“I'm just as healthy as you,” I say.
“Healthier than me,” says Grandpa ruefully, reaching for the bowl of mashed potatoes. The salad will be the last thing he eats.
Steve says the blessing before Grandpa starts eating. He thanks God about three times for the baby and asks that everything will be OK. He's already a concerned father.
I'm as hungry as Grandpa and start eating right away. But then I realize Steve is still looking at me.
“What?” I say, grinning at him. Apart from the fact that I'm probably going to feel like throwing up for the next three months, everything is wonderful.
“Ginny,” he says, taking my hand. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
“No, what?” I ask.
“It means we're about to have the biggest adventure of our lives!”
The Kent family adventures
The Treasure of Tadmor
The Strange Sketch of Sutton
The Hunt for the Cave of Moravia
The Search for the Sword of Goliath
The Buried Gold of Shechem
The Cache of Baghdad
The Walls of Jerusalem
The Missionary’s Diary
Other novels by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
The Society For the Betterment of Mankind
Revolution in C Minor
Somewhere between Longview and Miami
Last King of Damascus
The Unlikely Association of Meg and Harry
Non-fiction by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
Some of My Best Friends are Going to Hell
(And it Makes Me Want to Weep)