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Farm Stay near Kitale

"When I told my children I was going out to bring home wazungu, they thought I was joking," Jane confides, smiling over her charcoal brazier. "But, here you are."

We met Jane through her daughter Sheila, who is my age but not present. Sheila had listed Jane's place on because she didn't want her mother to be alone. The page suggested we might do farm work, building things, maybe make an arts center. It was vague, but Sheila was communicative when I was contacting potential workstays in late January.

Jane comes to find us in Kitale as a rainstorm tapers away. She gives us big hugs on first meeting and thanks God that we have arrived.

We follow her through the streets of Kitale– she navigates the slippery red mud in platform flip flops– to a matatu. The matatu lets us out by the side of the road somewhere north of town, and we walk half a kilometer to her farm.

"Karibu, welcome," she invites us into her house. "Sit down, you are at home."

"I hope it is okay," she adds, self-conscious in the gaze of her muzungu guests.

We're in a brick sitting room, with low tables and carefully covered couches. The last of the day's light filters in through constellations of small holes in the gabled metal roof. They're nail holes from past use– this is recycled roofing. But she assures us that the rain does not come in.

The light transitions to LED lantern, kerosene lamp, charcoal brazier. The room fills gradually with cooking fire smoke. She serves sweet, milky black tea, then a dinner of rice, stewed meat, and greens with nuts and onions. The steam curls in the low light. Jane coughs from the smoke, and so do we.

When the rains come pouring down again to rattle the metal roof, we stay dry as promised, despite the nail holes. Only in the hardest-pounding rain do we feel little splashes of water coming through.

It rains all night: light, pouring, pounding (a few light sprays through the mosquito net), letting up and then sheeting down again.

The rooster crows very loudly and too early, before the light of dawn.

"How many roosters do you have?" Eileen asks over breakfast.

"Five," Jane answers, "and some chicks."

But by noon, she has four. There is a feather and a spot of blood by the kitchen door. Lunch is chicken stew with chapati.

We spend the morning weeding the intercropped maize and peas (the peas trellis on the corn stalks), and the afternoon reading and writing in our well-lit bedroom. Jane heats water on the fire so we can bucket-bathe warm in the designated room.

Jane is of an age with Eileen, and likewise a mother of three. She's renovating room by room as she gets the money, transitioning from mud walls that have to be refreshed each week into fired bricks formed from the red clay mud. She has been living in this house for twenty years, the last four as a widow.

"I am alone," she says, though there is a Ugandan youth who shares a nearby building with the chicken coop and works on her farm. Her niece, niece's two year old, and fourteen year old grandson also come and go on different nights. When we eat, only she joins us; her younger relatives prepare and serve much of the food.

The meals are simple and very tasty: stewed kale from the garden, sauteed cabbage, potatoes in tomatoey broth. Jane grows maize, dries the cobs, shells grains into sacks she takes to the posho mill.

The coarse flour is poured into boiling water– the only kitchen help she lets me do– until it's a solid mass. The resulting ugali is a hot moulded mound on a plate. At each meal, a basin and pitcher of warm water are brought to clean hands. You eat ugali by pinching a ball of the hearty corn porridge and dipping it in stew.

"It is a hard life," Jane says, "but I thank God."

We're thankful too.

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