I am actually composing this entry as the clock ticks over to Day 20. But before I chronicle our jam-packed Days 18 and 19, I have to share something I just found out about tonight. MY MOTHER-IN-LAW HAS BEEN WRITING DOWN HER LIFE STORY!!!! So far she's documented her life from birth through college (all handwritten in English). She mentioned almost as an aside that she'll have to find someone to type it out, and she had barely uttered the words before I erupted in eager excitement to volunteer. AND SHE AGREED! So now I sit here next to a sheaf of maybe 50 sheets of notebook paper, covered with her charming handwriting front and back, and I feel like I've won the lottery, or been entrusted with a precious newborn. I cannot wait to read her words. GAH!!!!
OK, back to Saturday: Day 18!
Saturday started off slowly with our typical dose of lounging around. Harry took an Uber to the bank in the late morning, and Patrice brought him and Taye back to the apartment then returned home. Taye and the boys ran around outside for awhile, then ate some leftovers while they watched Back To The Future. Later in the day, Maurice and Lemayian came to hang out. Lemayian played with cars on the couch while Ezra taught Taye how to play one of our favorite family card games (pitch). When Ezra finished explaining all the rules, he collapsed on the couch and sighed, "My mouth hurts."
Patrice and Micah came to pick up Taye around 6:30, then helped transport the boys to Auntie Mary's, where we'd be having dinner, since Maurice didn't have enough room in his car to take all of us. (The flowers are from a plant in our parking lot that I finally got around to photographing.)
Here's a little backstory on Auntie Mary.
Harry's dad is the eldest of 8 (5 brothers and 2 sisters). Mary is the last-born. She is only five or six years older than Mark, so Harry and his brothers grew up with her and thought of her more as a sister than an aunt. Harry's grandfather (we call him Guka) traveled a lot and his grandmother (CuCu, pronounced ShoSho) suffered from early senility, so Harry's dad essentially raised his siblings and at one time or another they all lived with Harry's family.
(Now I need to go off on a few tangents, but they all have some connection to this visit with Auntie Mary, so bear with me. I also extend this caveat: as with any blog post, I'm explaining things as I understand them, and it's entirely possible that either I've misunderstood something that's been explained to me or I don't have all the information. Harry and Wambui have promised to let me know if I get things terribly wrong!)
Since we've arrived in Kenya, Harry has tried to plan time with various friends and family members. I really appreciate that family is important to him and that he is intentional and proactive about trying to see people when he is in town. So last week he was telling me that he'd made these plans and his exact words were, "Saturday we'll go to my aunt's house — Wairimu — I don't know what her English name is." I replied something like, "Uh, what?! How can you not know what your aunt-slash-basically-sister's English name is?!" I mean, I know that the English first names are mostly just a vestige of colonization and most people use them only in formal situations, but it seems like one would at least KNOW a close relative's given first name. And he proceeded to explain something he's explained to me before but which has always been a little confusing and hasn't stuck in my memory because it's not something I have an opportunity to make use of in my typical daily life. Which is that people are often referred to by their relationship instead of their name. For example, if Harry had been raised in America, he probably would have grown up referring to Mary as "Aunt Mary" or maybe just "Mary" because of being close in age. But because Harry was raised in Kenya as a Kikuyu, he instead thought of her as "younger mother" (because she was a sibling of his parent, but younger than his parent). In that context, a given first name is irrelevant. However, I call her Auntie Mary because it makes sense to me and it makes sense to the boys and no one really expects me to understand or utilize Kikuyu terminology. (Yet.) And sometimes the family even has animated-but-loving disputes about nomenclature and what terms are applicable to particular relationships, so it can be quite a confusing topic.
Another related tangent that's too adorable to pass up: one of the nicknames Harry's family calls him is "Maus" (basically pronounced "mouse"), which comes from his Kikuyu name Mwaura. When he called Auntie Mary a couple of weeks ago to set up our visit, she greeted him as "Kaus". He told me that since "Maus" essentially means "Little Mwaura", "Kaus" is like saying "little Little Mwaura". As Harry laughingly explained, "When very many people all have the same name, you need different versions!"
And that brings me to the other tangent: proper names. In Kikuyu culture, naming traditions are followed pretty closely. I won't go into the whole system here, but names are handed down from generation to generation. Women are generally given the name of one of the original nine daughters of the tribe, which means the same names are repeated from family to family and even within families. For example, Mark and Irene's eldest daughter and middle daughter were named according to tradition, which means that the first-born daughter was named after the paternal grandmother (Wanjiru) and the second-born daughter was named after the maternal grandmother (Wanjiru). Did you catch that? Mark's first-born and second-born daughters are both named Wanjiru! As Harry joked in the above paragraph, families try to avoid confusion by calling people by nicknames. So Mark's first-born daughter is generally called Shiru (pronounced SHEE-roh) and the second-born daughter is called Noni (pronounced noh-NEE) after her maternal grandmother's second name (Wathoni). Even so, sometimes there's a situation like the birthday party Wambui (pronounced wom-BOY) and I attended together last week: we heard someone shout "Wambui!" to a little girl, then another person called "Wambui!" to a young woman, then a third person mentioned the name Wambui in conversation, then a fourth person called "Wambui!" to a woman across the tent. After turning her head yet again only to find the person was calling for someone other than her, my sister said in mostly-mock exasperation, "There are too many people named Wambui at this party!" An American might interpret these naming traditions as confusing or even as a deprivation of unique identity, but in Kikuyu culture these names connect one generation to another, honor and even preserve ancestors, and help people understand their relationship to the community.
All this brings us back to Auntie Mary, whose Kenyan name is Wairimu (pronounced why-RAY-moh). You may remember this as the same name as the beloved woman who made the wonderful pancakes and other food at Irene's parents' home. Maybe I should write a song... "Wherever you go-o-o-o, you meet a Wairimu-u-u-u-u!"
Auntie Mary and her son Eric (who is about to finish law school) welcomed us warmly into their home. Patrice dropped off Ezra and Nehemiah then headed back home with his boys because Courtney wasn't feeling well. Maurice, Lemayian, Harry, the boys, and I met Eric in the parking lot as he was just coming home, so we all trooped up to the apartment together. Mark, Wabi, and Lisa arrived shortly thereafter, and Wambui was close behind.
The TV was on so that people could hear news about the sudden death of a respected political leader Nkaissery, whose loss comes at a crucial time for the nation because of his critical role as Cabinet Secretary of Internal Security (which oversees elections, among other responsibilities). With Kenya's elections less than a month away and a history of election-related turmoil and violence, the country has been rife with speculation and concern about Nkaissery's death.
We were treated to a delicious and satisfying dinner:
- Beef stew
- Irio (a mix of mashed potatoes, peas, greens, and corn)
- Lentils (called kamande, which is also Harry's dad's name and therefore both Taye's and Ezra's Kikuyu name)
- Roasted chicken
The adults ate in the living room, and Ezra, Nehemiah, and Lisa sat outside on the balcony. But they got too rowdy, so Lisa and Nehemiah came back into the living room and knelt on opposite sides of the coffee table, while Ezra stayed outside on the balcony.
One of the things I enjoy most while here in Kenya is listening to Harry and his family talk. There are often several conversations happening at once, and it's such a vibrant, happy blur of Kikuyu, Swahili, and English that I feel enveloped in a cocoon of contentment. For part of the evening I was lucky enough to have Lemayian perch on my lap, and while the chatter surrounded us I narrated YouTube Kids' videos to him. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Lisa continued to roughhouse and be silly. (Many thanks to "Uncle Eric" who kept watch over them.) I'm really appreciating how much fun the boys are having with their cousins.
Auntie Mary even brought out some photo albums, and we found this gem of Harry (on the left)!
It was another fulfilling but late night, and the boys once again tumbled willingly into bed.