Mukurwe-ini is located in the highlands of Kenya. Therefore, the moment we take the car, countless green hills rise before our eyes, with Mount Kenya in background on days where the sky is clear.
The village swarms with activity all day. On one side of the main shopping street, you find stands – with a structure seemingly made of branches more than wood planks – where they sell clothes, fruits and vegetables; on the other side are shops cramed into a small but long building. That’s where we sometimes buy fries, which comme in a double plastic bag, mixed in with toothpicks to use as utensils – one who does not pay attention to his snack can easily regret it.
We have observed that certain kinds of shops seem more popular, or at least are spotted more often in this area. Indeed, in a same village, we counted many beauty salons, a good number of Safaricom shops (Safaricom being a local mobile network company), a lot of small bars seemingly deserted, and countless butcheries in a competition for the one with the most promising name : « Quality 2013 Butchery», « Meat Garden » and « Pork City » are some seen examples.
As soon as we move away from the center of the village, the scenery changes completely. We leave the asphalt roads to take dirt paths where even 4X4 vehicules wouldn’t venture without thinking about it. The day before yesterday, for example, Ephraim (our driver) was forced to go in reverse gear on a slope on which we couldn’t heave ourselves up. But Ephraim is not one to give up that easily. He was actually reversing to take a run up, not to turn around. Concentrating as if his mind could increase the power of the old car, he hit the gas, reached the three-quarters of the slope, then stopped the vehicule – right in front of a group of children. There was no way he could lose face. And so Priscilla (our translator), Shauna and I got out of the car and started pushing. We had to run, followed by the children, to keep up with the car that constantly needed a push, wrapping us in a cloud of CO2 and reddish dust. Yes, we vanquished the hill! The kids stared at me with amusement as I shouted out loud to celebrate victory.
To get from one farm to another, we drive up (when we succeed to) or down, through or around hills and hills. We pass people – very often women – carrying loads of firewood or Napier grass on their back and with a strap going over their forehead. We also see cyclists that rather walk next to their bikes instead of getting on them, motorcycles (bota bota) and, rarely (you can understand why), another car. Streets have no names, doors have no addresses; it’s only with the indications Priscilla receives on her phone and sometimes with the help of an additionnal passenger that sits in the back with us – or even on the passenger’s seat with Priscilla – that we can reach the right place.
Then again, seldom have we really arrived when the engine is turned off : some farms have no roads that lead to it, others are accessible only by walking on the neighbours’ property or by going throuch a labyrinth of branches and exotic crops.
Few are the farms that have all their components – main house, kitchen, shed, outhouse, water tank, numerous pens and cages for different species – on a same landing on the hill. Therefore, before doing anything with the animals, we must climb up or tumble down slippery slopes on which our only help – when present – is what could hardly be called stairs unevenly digged in the reddish dirt. Since we have to carry our material in a cumbersome trunk, we barely see where we step. The cows are usually on a lower level and the path to get there is even more rustic. How on earth did the animals get there in the first place?
The landscape is certainly beautiful, but to drive and walk there is not an easy thing to do! Once I’m back in Quebec, my legs of steel will not deign to take the elevator anymore and will get me right up any real staircase.