First instinct: run away. Second instinct: stop and snap a photo. Third instinct: reassess the situation and disarm the dangerous knife-wielding baby.
Dear _____ (yes you),
No, it’s not a scene from Chucky. That’s my pal Reagan, who’s probably about the best baby you can imagine. Boasting either a contagious smile or permanent expression of wonder, this little dude will win anyone’s heart by running up, arching his head impossibly skyward and flashing a grin the flies can’t resist. There’s usually about 18 of the little bastards trying to snap his patience but I’ve never actually seen him swat them away from his eyes nose or mouth. Constantly it’s the Wicker Man bee scene only Reagan is more collected and composed than Nicholas Cage. The flies can’t get enough of him, and neither can I. The best way to express it is like Reagan himself: with excited hand flails and conversational shrieks of “eah!”
If there were a blueprint for what all five year old boys are designed to be, it’d look like Larry. He’s a quintessential little boy and scallywag. Just about every night he shows me some gangrenous war-wound for me to clean earned from a day running barefoot over the rough terrain with his favorite toy – an old worn car tire. Making convincing truck sounds and hurtling the wheel into objects (me being one of his favorites…also sleeping dogs), Larry’s your typical boy given a license to spend the day playing and exploring and shredding his skin against the dirt, his beluga face full of mischief and determination to have fun. As I write this I’m literally dodging tires and returning fire in my best Dr. Evil “fire the laser” voice. Night or day, this one never tire-s. At night, if the air is still, you may catch a floating set of laughing little white teeth bouncing by out of nowhere; a silly naked boy otherwise invisible in the darkness.
“Timmon!” you’ll consistently hear Larry’s voice call his brother (half/whole/step?) to attention throughout the day. Timmon is the swellest and sweetest little chap, and is what I imagine Reagan to be like in a few years. About the same age as Larry, Timmon is usually the first sound I hear of the day that doesn’t make me want to bore my inner-ears out with my fingers. Above the roar of the wind and creaky hinges and door slams and incessant dog barking and gangly cat meows and cow snorts and babies crying and birds chirping and goats screaming and bugs crawling… is Timmon’s motorcycle “brrrrrrrrrrr”-ing. A welcome noise sounding the beginning of a new day.
Larry’s favorite toy is the manure-trodden tire, Reagan’s any piece of not-suitable-for-baby piece of garbage or weapon, and Timmon’s would be a piece of bent and rusty metal wire interpreted as handlebars. Leave the rest to imagination and you’ll witness him ripping by, popping impressive wheelies and kicking up dust with the donuts I taught him to do. He’s a regular hot rod.
Conversations walking Timmon home from school at lunch usually go something like this:
“Howdy there captain. Time for lunch bud?”
“Did you have a fun morning?”
“Yea.” He takes my hand and we begin the journey home.
“My belly. She’s carnivorous.”
“What did you do today?”
“Mm sounds pretty nifty.”
“Phew, hot one.”
“Can you see our shadows?”
“They’re right underneath us.”
“That’s how you know it’s noon near the equator.”
“It also means I’m traveling much faster right now than I can at my home latitude.”
“So if I run west, I can say I’m running faster than I’ve ever ran before.”
“Whoops, you’re making me walk into bushes, bud.”
“They’re spikey buggers.”
“Yea.” I whistle a tune that’s in my head and he tries to copy but just blows air and spit.
“I guess you basically have to walk about 4 times as far as me,”
“Because your legs are about a quarter the length of mine.”
“Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road…” And so forth, each “yea” a high-pitched and uncompromising agreement.
Running up to me and blurting some Maasai word, and having me repeat it before he scampers away laughing hysterically to repeat the process, always amuses Timmon. I’m not exactly sure what it is he’s having me me say but the game is cheap and easy, usually dissolving into me spouting gibberish in however many goofy voices I can manage in the heat. And then dying to end it.
Trying to snag some breezy down-time on a stone under the rare shade of a tree carries with it about a 50/50 chance of receiving a regular doctor’s check-up from one or all of the trio, as they climb, poke, grab and pet the pieces of my body and possessions deemed interesting. Everything, from my backpack to the hair on my legs is an open exhibition. The circus is in town. Tickets are free. Invite your friends.
Not being entirely sure what the exact relationship is between the gang, it’s clear everybody within the confines of this dusty stick-fence perimeter are family. Including me, or at least I’d like to think so. Being the only Mazoongo around, which basically means whitey (or ‘wealthy’ according to most… I beg to differ…), attracts allot of attention. Kids enamored by my hair, literally grooming me like a group of baboons, or the cows and goats doing a double-take each time I pass; I’m definitely the odd man out. I couldn’t feel more welcome.
Karibu is the word here for welcome and the family, students, teachers, and community couldn’t make me feel more karibu. The Maasai culture is rich and inviting, sort of like the goat’s blood they drink on special occasions. Which, on second thought, is maybe rich in a bloody kind of rich way, but not really all that inviting. To me. Don’t think I’d RSVP the goat’s blood invite no matter how rich it is.
Wealth is certainly not any indication of richness, and vice versa. I wanted to exist somewhere I could feel the love, authentically, and although this time last year I’d’ve never considered that to be inside a mud hut rolling chapati dough with a family of traditional Kenyans, here I am. I feel it, and I can’t wait to find out who I’ll be cooking dinner with this time next year. Family is whoever welcomes you into theirs. Prosperity is sharing acts of kindness, unconditionally.