Authors: Brendan Clerkin
There are so many people I feel deserve acknowledgement for their help and encouragement, both during my time in Africa and in the making of this book. I began writing this during a few rainy days after I came home, so that I would not forget it all in a few years’ time. I intended to spend only a few days at it so I would have something for myself to look back on. Then a few people along the way told me it was a good read, but that I should improve it in various ways.
I would like to thank in particular Pat Close who probably guided me through its progression more than anyone. I must also express my gratitude to the O’ Donnells of Ardara—Cian and Fionntan, my brother Aidan, Fr. Liam Kelly, Wambua Singa, and Seamus Murray.
I am very grateful to Pat Cullen for his generous backing; also to Mike Hartwell, Gerry Keating, Marianne Leonard, Claire Quinn, and those in Deloitte for their terrific support for this project.
The writing of this book owes much to my parents Séamus and Pauline for inspiring my love of learning and adventure, as well as for their valued advice while composing it.
I would like to thank my editor Cleo Murphy, and the people of Original Writing for the opportunity to publish this account. Jean Spindler deserves a special mention for her marvellous animations and the front cover. Bartley Sharkey did me a huge favour by creating the maps of Kenya and Kitui, and Michael Hig-gins also in creating the website.
I must express my appreciation to Fr. John Gilligan of DCU, as well as Margaret Murtagh and John Murphy of Gaisce.
There are many people whom I knew in Kenya who are not even mentioned in the pages of this book, but who warmly welcomed me wherever I went. I would especially like to express my deepest appreciation to the Irish missionaries throughout Kenya for their unfailing hospitality, and for making my time there so enjoyable, and also to the African people of Kitui for their friendships and the terrific welcome I received from every one of them.
During my time in Africa, there were many people who sent donations for the people of Kitui. I think nearly all of them are far too modest to want to be named, so please know your wonderful generosity is making a difference. Finally, without ever even asking any of them, Brid and a whole army of friends from college (and even some of their friends) were busy raising a huge amount of funds in Ireland for projects around Kitui. Again, I know many of them are too modest to want to be mentioned, but I have to congratulate them on their superb work.
This book is dedicated to Packie Ward who passed away only days before I left Kenya.
It is also dedicated to ‘Nana’ Clare McGarrigle who passed away a few months after my return to Ireland, but always encouraged me to write it all down
‘Whites have watches, blacks have time’
I can remember the moment very clearly. I was sitting at my desk in the PricewaterhouseCoopers offices in Dublin during the college holidays in the summer of 2003. An e-mail arrived from a good friend who was on a J1 summer work visa in New Jersey, USA. His message was not so much, ‘Wish you were here’; it was more along the lines of, ‘I bet you wish you were here!’ It set me thinking.
It was a pleasant sunny day. During lunch-break, I ambled down to the Grand Canal to eat my salad sandwiches on a bench, sitting beside the statue of Patrick Kavanagh. As I sat there, two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was—what am I doing here working in an accountancy firm in Dublin? The second was—I am going to Africa.
This second thought, which had come from God knows where, was quickly forgotten. Later that summer, some friends and I went inter-railing around Eastern Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, for over a month. Halcyon days of innocent mishaps and harmless mischief, hours spent trying to chat up the stunning blondes of those countries, hardly being able to spend our money because everything was so cheap, and taking a last glimpse before the EU would transform the eastern bloc once they all joined the following year.
I did the J1 visa gig myself the following summer. I worked as a lifeguard at a summer activity camp in Maine, with a month at the end for the classic American road trip. It was only after that summer that Africa came back into my head. Of all the places in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States that I had visited, the region that most appealed to me was Transylvania in Romania. The scenes I had witnessed there remained fixed in the album of memory: horses pulling wooden carts stacked with hay, everybody going about their business on foot or on bicycle, forty or more workers cutting corn in a field … It was the sedate way of life which appealed; it seemed that things had not really changed a great deal since the days of Vlad the Impaler. I did not know it then, but that step back in time was in some ways a preparation for Africa.