“It is so good to see you again, Mr. Khaemba”, the District Officer said with a warm tone as we entered her office. She sits with regal posture from behind her standard office style desk, topped with a deep-rose colored tablecloth. Her chair has a classic 80s style plaid design, criss-crossed with forest brown and earthen orange.
The whole room has a kind of old school feel about it, though there is not one specific thing that I could point my finger at to explain the feeling. Perhaps the lack of electronics? No, too tangible, couldn’t account for the ambience. Plus, she is furiously texting on her Galaxy 5 mobile phone, so modernity has definitely entered into this work space.
“Let me introduce you to Mr.Odhiambo, our soon-to-be District officer” Both Malik and I shake hands with this inviting and unsuspecting man, unsuspecting in the sense that he will soon be in charge of this whole division of western Kenya, but I would have never guessed it. I wonder if all politicians practice handshakes, to learn the most effective pressure to apply and proper grip techniques. Must be the case, none have had an un-satisfying handshake to date. “Pleased to meet you both, I am always happy to meet my fellow residents of Navaholo”. Mr Odhiambo exudes professionalism. The picture perfect suite helps too.
“This is someone you should be sure to remember, Mr. Odhiambo; Mr. Khaemba is an important member of our community”
They begin their politicking catch up while my eyes and thoughts begin to wander. I can’t help but wonder how this DO is able to make sense of her piles of paper. I have noticed this to be the one constant amongst ministry offices, that of the mountainous paper.
“Yes, Miss DO has been very good to Navaholo for many years now. We are all sad to see her go. However, we are very excited to be working with you, Mr. Odhiambo.”, Malik says in his always genuine voice, earnest in demeanor.
The exposed light bulb, the only source of light at night in this room, appears to have had recent electrical repairs, as a line of fresh plaster runs all along where the hidden wires must be, all the way down to the electrical socket by the floor. A gentle breeze flows around us, accessing our senses from the line of open windows along the far wall. It’s funny, as the only thing that makes the DO’s room different from any other is that there is a red tablecloth covering both her desk and the general-meeting desk between us and her.
“Thank you for the letter, Mr. Khaemba. Of course, we fully support your de-worming project in our district. It is a most important issues, one that we are all committed to treating and improving”
A man periodically enters and leaves while this conversation is going on. Looking to be in his late 30’s, he has a considerable amount of stress on his face and has not once looked at anyone in the room. Enters, drops off his business, and leaves. I remember seeing him outside while we were waiting for this meeting. He sat beside me on the bench, hunched forward with his elbows resting on his knees. I do seem to remember that we acknowledged each other with our eyes, also including a slight nod of the head to ensure the other hears the message, but that was the extent of our exchange so far.
“Madam DO, you know that we were just at Kakamega Central head office to find the data on school students, number of schools, ect. Unfortunately, the data had many errors and was unusable; we had to bring it to their attention. You know that this data is integral to the integrity of our program”, Malik explains to the DO. “But of course, Mr. Khaemba, it is good that you bright it to their attention. I know that they will want to have their data corrected”
Perhaps it is the romanticism of developing countries that I try to discourage within myself, but I find the thin layer of dust and dirt over much of the walls and floors to be quite appealing. Scuff marks on the walls from who knows how many years ago still remain, reminding me of a past that I wasn’t around to experience, and comforting nonetheless. A feeling of organic governing, void of the modern ‘necessities’ found in my country of birth, reduced to just people and paper governing their constituents as best they cal. I know, of course, that this feeling is inaccurate and opposite to what many Kenyans would describe as the reality.
“Thomas, why don’t you introduce yourself to our friends here”, Malik says, motioning me to speak with his hands.
I must admit, I have come to use a common pattern when making these kind of introduction speeches. First, give a very brief introduction to whom I am and where I’m from. Always be sure to try and make it somewhat relevant to whomever it is that I am speaking to. Next, give a short description of what it is I will be doing while in Kenya, how it benefits the people in this country. Be sure not to use unnecessarily big words, but do make sure to use ones that are not commonly used. It adds a flavor of intellectualism to your speech. Finally, always be sure to thank ‘this most inviting whomever it is you are speaking to, to thank them for their support and for speaking with me. This is not meant to seem contrived, but rather just playing into the conversational formalities. Actually, I kindove like utilizing this language. It’s like role playing.
Malik and I thank the ministers for their time and take our leave. There is a look of relief on the faces of the people waiting outside of her office, happy that their turn with the DO has almost arrived. We pass by the secretary sitting at her desk with the Microsoft Word created label scotch taped over his desk as we leave this tiny, somewhat bare waiting room and step back out into the sizzling mid-day sun.