Dreams of My President’s Father

by Spencer

Truly, it’s amazing. The father to most powerful person in the world grew up in a hut on the other side of the world. Who would’ve thought? From here? Kogelo, Kenya?

Barack Obama still has family in Kogelo, namely his grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama. By American standards she is his step grandmother, but by Kenyan tradition she is his grandmother. She raised his father. After his undergrad, when Barack Obama went to Kenya, it was her home in Kogelo he visited.

Her home is like that of many grandmothers, decorated with the grandkids’ achievements. In this case, senatorial and presidential campaign advertisements. Most are signed by the President, with a note addressed to Granny Sarah.

I had the honor of briefly speaking to her, through a family member who helps out, translating and organizing her business. I asked to what she attributed Barack’s success. She replied that it is a great thing, so great it can only be attributed to God’s hands. She said that he has much work left. There is not yet peace on earth. She hoped that during his presidency we would all become better at living with one another.

Obama’s grandma – she keeps it real.

Her life, and the village’s, has changed dramatically. A couple months back Al Qaeda said they were going to assassinate her. The Kenyan government built a police station to protect her. The primary and secondary school are named after Barack Obama. The road is getting paved. They’re building a welcome center for the President’s impending visit.

updated 1/1/2015

Cycling Southern Kenya

by Spencer

I was cycling along and whaddya know but ahead of me was a tractor. A tractor! I hadn’t seen a tractor in months. Wow! A tractor!!! Kenya had all sorts of golden nuggets: Paved country roads, food that was more than starch and mangy meat, decent English comprehension, even buildings ten stories high. Kenya has had a stable (if autocratic) market orientated government (kind-of) since independence. You see that.

Though, buildings are largely in disrepair, the roads are potholed and youth are abundantly unemployed. Lake Victoria is tragic. There used to be ferries that went to Uganda and Tanzania. Today it’s carcinogenic. I camped in a dilapidated lakeside hotel, comfortable with a cold beer in a cushy chair. An Indian businessman told me, “All the fish are gone. It’s pathetic – these people don’t even care.” And there’s little else to do but sit back, enjoy and await the next racist comment.

edited 1/1/2015

Note: Eldoret is the home of Kenyan Olympian marathon runners and there’s a neat dirt track you can check out. Early mornings, you see folks running. It reminds me of home.

Bicycling Africa: A Journey Closed

by Spencer

Six days ago, I was in Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria, bicycling home to my dearest cozy sleeping bag on a dark scary road, the main southward arterial to Uganda. It was about seven. It was quite dark, but close enough to dusk that there were regular clouds of gnats. It was not pleasant.

At once: I am blinded by an oncoming semi-truck. My night vision is shot; there are no street lights. Ahead I barely make the outline of bicycle loaded with raw sugar cane six feet wide. I veer right onto the road proper where a minibus is overtaking the semi-truck. Oh crap. It honks; I veer left, into a pot hole. This hurts. Back right. Through a cloud of gnats, close the eyes. Open eyes. Three shadowy slowly moving bicycles, two seconds to impact. Hmm. Left again. Big unseen bump. Ow.

Repeat times twenty minutes. People point at me, shout. Mzungu! Mzungu! White person! White person!  In the dark I really don’t welcome it. Why are you so interested in me? It’s intense but also banal. Being on the bicycle, as so, that is my day to day. Cycle, cycle, awkward encounter, cycle, eat, sleep, repeat.