Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Chanukah in Ol Kalou

Mt Kenya through a telephoto lens
I went to spend Chanuka with the Ol Kalou community. The community were kind enough to offer to meet me at the airport, but things didn't turn out that way. The day I arrived was the day the minibus drivers decided to strike. My poor friends could not get to the airport, and when I eventually realised that I was on my own (I bought a sim at the airport and then found out what had happened, from my contact in Ol Kalou, who then gave my reception committee my new number ) got a taxi into town. That took around two hours. Getting back to Ol Kalou was also difficult and expensive. For once even the highway outside the city was very busy as people all over the country pressed personal vehicles into use.

Eventually we got to Ol Kalou and I was given one of the family's rooms to sleep in. 
The kitchen, deadly for wheezers like me
 Everyone was so nice, I tried not to get in the way whilst there. Easy when this view is to be had:
The peak of Mt Kenya in the far distance
Whilst in this part of the world it's a crime to forget the birds. Avraham's garden is the best place to spot them
The balloons (filled with rice, nice and noisy) went down a treat
Everyone loves to spoil Sarah the youngest child
 I spent the next few days distributing the various things I had brought. As usual half the things had to be left behind. Whatever you can bring though will be well received. The the boxes of Chanukah candles went well with the lovely menorah brought by a previous american visitor, I think her name was Elaine. The simplest of things back home such as kiddush wine can be a rare commodity out here. 
The chanukiyah is just to the right of the burning shabbat candles.
  The shabbat candles were lit and then the kids sang many of their songs. Many of the songs are well known to anyone in an orthodox jewish community, but they gain a very particular interpretation so that they are not easy to sing along to. It's best just to sit back and enjoy the concert. If you know some songs they will always be very happy to learn from you. Same goes if you have time to spend in the community teaching hebrew or anything else to do with the religion.
The challa made by Daniel was scrumptious
 After the kids sang their songs the chanukiya was lit and I gave my rendering of Hanerot Halalu and Maotsur. (By the eighth day the kids were singing along), and then Ruth said the blessing over the candles, bringing in the shabbat.
Yosef lighting the menorah (The map is the Madaba map of Jerusalem)
There is no cooking on shabbat, but they have invented a slow burning fire made of ashes and charcoal to keep  a kettle of water hot through the night. And very welcome are hot drinks in that part of the world at night. Nights can be very cold despite being on the equator (The place is very high up).
When I needed help with an administrative problem in Kenya I was given a jewish contact who could help. I decided that to solve my problem using the contact would involve a long detour into the back country, so instead opted to have the business done closer to home in Ol Kalou. I should have listened to Yosef my host.

Some thousands of shillings later I found myself deep in Kenyan bureacracy, had wasted a lot of time, was mired in a corrupt system and still did not get what I needed.
The mistake was in thinking like a 'mzungu' used to western norms of administration, forgetting that contacts in african countries can be important in smoothing the way, in avoiding expensive cul de sacs. 

Miriam having her hair braided
 Miriam is 8 years old and without any prompting attends all the community services, knows all the songs. She is basically part of the community, part of the family. She spends nearly all her time playing with yosef's family, taking her meals with them. Little Miriam has adopted this tiny community, like them finding her way into judaism. I didn't see her parents in the weeks i spent with the community.