Chapter Nine Part One
By Joan Campbell
I hesitantly shook the hand stretched out to me. If his sign hadn’t had my name scrawled on it, I would have thought I had the wrong person. Could this middle-aged man be the Constance Grammie had told me to e-mail, the one who would meet me at the airport?
“Jambo, Grace,” he said again.
“Yes. Jumbo. Big plane.” I pointed back toward the airport tarmac, wondering how I would survive five days in a country where citizens didn’t speak my language. His dark ebony face creased with laughter.
“No, you misunderstand. Jambo is the Swahili greeting.” His English was lilting and lovely. “Here, let me take your luggage.” I could feel the heat rise to my face and was grateful that his full attention was on my bags.
“Welcome to Kenya,” he said when the bag transfer was complete. “I am Constance.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had been expecting a woman.
The small travel guidebook I had bought in Auckland informed me that Nairobi was the busiest town in East Africa, and as I stepped from the airport building, I could well believe it. People and their goods spilled from cars, buses, and small vans. Horns hooted, voices called. It was warm, although not as sweltering as I had expected, and the air was laced with the smell of moisture and something heavier and more exotic—flowers, or maybe spices.
“This way, Grace.”
Constance led me to an old blue bus, and I nervously watched as two men lifted my bags onto the roof, tying them down with a length of rope.
“Soon.” The driver nodded emphatically. “Less than half an hour.”
An hour later we still hadn’t moved. My head ached. I was exhausted even though it was early morning. What time was it in the States? My tired brain refused to do the calculation.
“He’s waiting for a few more passengers,” Constance explained.
Almost two hours later, the bus engine finally—and reluctantly—chugged to life. I was squeezed in between Constance and a large African lady wearing a bright orange head-piece. We crawled through the Nairobi traffic, and I had time to take in the tall buildings, green trees, small shops, parks, and fountains. It was prettier than I had imagined. As we left the city, the scenes became more rural, the poverty more evident. I dozed off, but every now and then I would awake to see rolling green plantations or small towns of brightly colored shacks and open-air markets. We stopped at one of these once, and Constance bought some pineapples. They were sweeter and juicier than anything I had ever tasted before.
“Kenya’s soil is very fertile. Coffee. Cocoa. Pineapples. The best in the world!” Constance smiled proudly.
By late afternoon, we finally reached Constance’s village. My body ached from the long, bumpy drive.
A chorus of young voices welcomed me as I stepped from the bus. “Jambo. Jambo!” and even a few voices saying: “Grace!” At an instruction from Constance, the children scuttled backward to give me some space, but their smiles lost none of their fervor. I was suddenly reminded of the children in Honduras who had met me with just as much enthusiasm.
One child pointed at me and said something to Constance, who laughed as he answered her.
“What did she say?”
“She wants to know why your hair is different to ours, while Mama Bea’s was the same.”
“Did they all know my grandmother then?”
“She came often, Grace. Even when she was ill. You don’t remember?”
I did suddenly remember. It was after Lauren had left and just before Grammie’s diagnosis. She had asked me to come along. I think you will be touched, Gracie. They have something we westerners have lost. But I had refused. She had gone alone.
“Your grandparents financed the home these children stay in. In fact, they came one dry season and helped build it. More than ten years ago. But they also sent cards and letters to the children. They were the children’s American grandparents. And whenever Mama Bea came, there was a big celebration. She would bring presents and sweets. It felt like Christmas to the children.”
I was suddenly aware that I’d arrived empty-handed.
“I don’t have anything for them.”
Constance smiled and put a fatherly arm around my shoulder.
“No. This time we have something for you.”
The crowd steered me to the biggest building in the village—the church—where more smiling faces waited. As I entered the hall, women’s voices undulated in the joyful African sound of celebration and several men and women dressed in animal skins performed a traditional dance to the sound of drums and voices. I was ushered to a seat right in front of the small stage and plied with plates of sweets and doughy eats as Constance started to speak.
“It is an honor to have Mama Bea and Baba Joe’s granddaughter here today,” he said, smiling down at me. “So much of what is good in our village is because of their love. The children’s home and school. Even this church which they helped build with their own hands. And I, Constance, serve the village as a doctor, because they helped pay for my medical training.”
Why hadn’t Grammie told me all this? Or maybe she had and I hadn’t listened. I remember once flicking through her Kenyan photos, as she rattled off a list of difficult sounding names. “It really doesn’t mean that much to me, Grammie,” I’d said. Shame washed over me as I recalled my indifference.
“Grace. Your grandparents are alive in our village. They live through every orphan given hope, and every person saved by my hands. And it is an honor to welcome you here today.”
That evening I was the unworthy guest of honor of the village. Surrounded by their love, I felt like an imposter. I had done nothing to deserve their words of kindness, their songs and poems, their joyful dances. It was Grammie—all Grammie and Gramps—who had left a legacy in this far-flung African village. I had played no part in it, deserved none of their thanks.
That night I slept in Constance’s humble home. His daughter slept on the floor so that I could have a bed. It took a long time to fall asleep. One thought kept running through my mind. All those years that I had been steeped in anger and selfishness, living for my own pleasure, Grammie had pushed aside her grief and looked to the needs of others. This village was proof of it. This village was her legacy.
The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt
Grace takes delivery of a package and her life is turned upside down by nine sealed mystery envelopes from her late grandmother. Grammie’s instructions require Grace to take the journey of her lifetime, not only to far off places, but also into the deepest parts of her heart. As she follows the trail laid out for her and uncovers her family’s darkest secrets, Grace is forced to confront the loss and betrayal that has scarred her past and seek the greatest Christmas Treasure of all.
Learn more about this fun project at Write Integrity Press.
Joan Campbell is the Featured Author today at WIP, so drop by to read her Favorite Christmas Recipe.
You’re invited to Magnificent Hope’s Christmas Party so come over and join all the fun!