A travel moment in Nairobi

Both her parents were killed in the crash. Horrific tangled metal, the bus on its side windows smashed, a teddy bear swinging listless in a tree its button eyes watching the watchers. For days now the wreckage hung perilously over the cliff edge, another reminder of the dangers of the black spot on the Nairobi escarpment road to Naivasha.

The elders of the village held a meeting.

‘We have to help. We are her parents now. It is so.’

Julliane is 19 years old, an orphan. At Nairobi University life goes on, frenetic in the midst of the hub of Nairobi. The endless roar of traffic, hooting horns, matatus dodging this way and that. A rainbow of colour streams past the nursery on Langata Road, people walking this way and that, bicycles dodging the traffic dodging each other. Faces at the widows, hands thrusting guavas yellow in balloon like bags, carvings, beads, paper hats of hot nuts fragrant in the air.

An orphan. No parents, brothers, sisters. There alive and well, laughing, shining faces, heads thrown back, glinting teeth white against her mothers bright coloured head dress; joking one moment dead the next. How could this happen?

‘It is down to us now.’

The men chew, muscular jaws working, a spit here, frown there. Under the umbrella like acacia they meet together to decide how they, their village can help one of their daughters. A goat skips by, small child running, laughing stick in hand almond shaped liquid brown eyes shining, flies around the corners ignored. His plump limbs beat a rhythm on the sun baked earth. The men glance up. Smile.

Robert is leaning against the tree, smart in his city suit, stark contrast to his companions in their red and coloured cloth, beads, checkered blanket thrown across shoulders. The oldest, shriveled hair white against a skull stretched with deep ebony skin marking his age squats’ on a stool and looks up.

‘We have to make a plan. She has done so well this daughter of ours At University she study’s law. We must help her stay. Robert, can you find out what she needs? Her fees to study, books, food, accommodation. If everyone contributes something no matter how small, we will keep her there with no worry for her. She is a cleaver girl this daughter. It is for us, her family now, to keep her safe and well.’

The men nod in agreement.

‘And tell them they must let us know if she has a problem, is unhappy. It is important that we are kept informed then we can support her through this journey. Mama Sophie will tell the women, they will speak with her, care for her here. She will always have a home, food – love.’

It is done. Julliane is the village daughter, watched over, tended to when she’s sick, fated when she passes her exams. The whole village fill the graduation ceremony when their daughter, splendid in black and blue gown throws her hat high with all the others


My driver when I am in Nairobi is called Robert – he was a street orphan in Kibera as a child who had worked his way out to become the owner of a small fleet of taxis. Immensely proud of his heritage, a
pure humanitarian at heart

Robert told me a story as we shared a coffee after visiting the AMREF young peoples photo exhibition at the Dutch Ambassadors Residence in Nairobi.

It moved me immensely and deserves to be told.

S Chapman

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