A Blog Post By Matthew Cole: "Colors"
“The only difference between man and man all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind, even as there is between trees of the same species.
Wherein is the cause for anger, envy or discrimination?”
I have been in Wamba, my “home” in Kenya for a few days now. One thing that becomes quite clear when you arrive in this area is the vast array of colors that dot this landscape. It truly appears as if mother nature herself was given a full palate to work with in creating this little piece of the Earth. I’ll attempt to break it down for you as best as my writing ability can merit.
Red. It is everywhere and in everything. The iron rich soil here is a striking rusty red color, and it is quite inescapable. After a day in the field, I can appear to have gotten a nice tan from being outside all day, but as anyone who knows my tanning ability well can attest, that is not the case. It’s just the dirt from a day in the dust. The dust in the air also causes extraordinary sunsets, with every shade of red imaginable. Some of my favorite moments so far have been shared with Eric and myself on top of a rock at sunset.
Blue. For a land with little water, there is naturally little blue here. Most days are sunny this time of year, and the sky can stretch for miles across the landscape. But one thing that does catch the eye is the brilliant blue starling that is common to this landscape. It is hard not to notice them as they fly through the air, as the blue sticks out against every other color.
Green. Surprisingly, for a land without much blue, there is a tremendous amount of green. Many plants, most notably, the thorny acacia, have evolved to live in the harsh conditions that exist in Samburu County. Even in the midst of the dry season, which we are currently in, there are still plenty of green plants to be found. Add on the fact that the school uniforms around here are a forest green and you come to realize that green is not as uncommon as one would think. Even the insides of the church are decorated in green, although I am not sure if that has to do with the liturgical time of year or is the standard decorating color. Speaking of which, I attended church yesterday, which let me tell you, is no small feat. The service was nearly 3 hours long, and was almost entirely in Swahili. Yet even as I dumbly nodded along, I was welcomed with open arms, and even have joined the choir, which for those wondering, was a decision made independent of a certain choir director I call my mother. There will be more on this adventure later.
Yellow. When the sand isn’t red, it is yellow. Yellow also happens to be the primary building color around these parts, which makes for intriguing interactions between reds and yellows as the dust makes its inexorable wind-blown attacks.
Brown. Another dominant color here. The many shades of brown that make up the skin tones of the local populace are beautiful. Not to mention that when it rains, the ground turns a deep red-brown color and turns into quite the mud. I had the pleasure to attend a summit of a group of multiple women’s groups from different tribes last week. Turkana, Kikuyu, Samburu and other tribes of women all meeting together to discuss the common issues they face. It was quite empowering to hear stories about how the “future is female” in a place where I never expected to hear such feminist ideas. But in order to get to this meeting, we had to cross about 6 kilometers worth of muddy road, and while our Toyota Landcruiser with 4X4 was quite equipped to handle the brown mud, our colleagues late 90’s era Toyota Corolla with street tires, was not. After a few tows (and grumbles) both cars made it to the site. We were greeted by the women in dance, and as they grabbed my hand and walked, nay danced, me to my seat, I felt welcomed. Then about 10 feet from my seat, they stopped, looked at me and actually picked me up and carried me the rest of the way. I wish I could say the moment was captured on camera, but in the moment, it was not.
White. It is a hard fact to deny, white, is not a color that is common here. This is partially because anything that is white becomes pink quickly due to the dust. It is technically winter here, but unlike my home in Massachusetts, there is no snow to be found. There is also the inevitable fact of the color of my skin. As a straight, male Christian, I have never been a minority in any room in the States. Yet, here, it is impossible not to feel the eyes on me everywhere I go. One of my favorite things about Wamba is that the first outside group to have a presence here was the Italians. They built a hospital (where I am living), Church, and a mission in the town after the Second World War. As a result of their influence, the predominant greeting is not the Swahili “jambo” or the Samburu “eeh serian”, but in fact “ciao”. Whenever I walk through the streets of Wamba, I am greeted to a chorus of high pitched “ciaos” as the school children jockey for my attention. It never fails to put a smile on my face.
As I interact more with the children of town, I am sure that these feelings of curiosity and wonderment they have about me will fade, and will change to that of genuine friendship. But for now, I will enjoy the commotion that my presence has caused, even if it is sometimes a little uncomfortable.