Believe You Me and the Jackrabbit Tree
Standing in the shade of the purple flowered jackrabbit (er...jacaranda) tree, Toby starts another captivating tale with "Believe you me". A natural story-teller no doubt, driven by helping those in need, he shares with us the politically charged history of the Cherengani Hills. The region has recently been subject to colonialism and tribal clashes. The repercussions of such conflict have left the residents to cope with extreme poverty through subsistence farming. The lesson sets the stage before we continue on with the tasks at hand. Today, Toby rallied the Cross World Africa team and took us to his and his wife's property in this region, an undeniably beautiful and sacred homestead that serves as a beacon of hope and growth for local residents.
A small group of men and women employed by Toby and his wife tend the 140 acre property, growing maize, avocado, beans and timber. Toby makes a point of checking in on the well-being of all the residents, as well as discuss the most recent harvest. Last but not least, we check in with Toby's one sheep, Fluffy. Fluffy thinks he is a cow and runs among the large herd not knowing any different. Who am I to judge?
The farm manager, Nashus, takes a break from his morning duties and agrees to take us on a tour of the property. We descend into the forest, heading for the sukuma wiki (collard greens) plot near the dam. This Swahili name for this leafy green means "stretch the week" because it is one of the hardiest and most affordable vegetables that grow in this region of Kenya. Suddenly, I am met with the distinct feeling that we are being followed. I turn around to find this group of children staring at the mzungus (foreigners) trekking through this massive homestead. Beckoning them with smiles- the universal language of kinship- and waves, they come running over to greet us. In this rural region of Kenya, three Americans and one European must be quite the spectacle.
We continue the tour and the children from the neighboring farms still follow curiously behind. Approaching a women's only co-op, we are surprised and blessed with the sweet melody of song in native tongues. To my delight, it's a welcoming ceremony. Ten women, all mothers, have taken time out of their busy day to greet us with clapping and singing. As I come to learn later, these women have banded together to raise their children, support each other, and grow their own food. Words do not do this experience justice, so please see below to feel the love that happens when one culture opens its heart to another.
After we return from our tour, Toby wraps up his business on his property. I close my eyes to reflect. In a snapshot of awareness, I feel the soft breeze blowing the hair out of my face, and take a deep breath in. I took a chance coming here, leaving the safety net of America. I knew not what I would find, nor what would find me. The ebb and flow of doubt and fear throughout this life are always met by love and faith. Wherever you go in the world, you are bound to find difficulties and heartbreaking hardships within any given culture. From subsistence farmers in Africa to nine-to-fivers in America, we all are trying to find our own way of doing more than just getting by. However, wherever you go in the world, you will also find beauty, joy, and love. I do not know much, but believe you me, one can always find their way home sitting in the shade of a jackrabbit tree.