An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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By Lantern’s Light

Nightfall had long chased all color from the Kenyan sky. With the moon missing, there was nothing to separate the stars in the sky from the lanterns on lake, so they ran together. We had just finished another amazing dinner prepared by my friend’s creative hands. Amazing both in taste and process. (I’ll never understand how a cinnamon loaf, which would put to shame any Starbucks’ danish can emerge from a coal heated pot? However, there are some things in life you simply accept…and then ask for seconds.)

Tummy’s full, we all sat content watching as lake flies and an occasional beetle beat curiously into the lone bulb that dangled from the tin roof. The air had cooled. The night was peaceful-until I heard something rustling outside. My eyes turned to the front door which was open for the breeze. Then rustling mixed with whispers… I watched the door. I waited for something to immerge from the darkness. Then I saw the whites of eyes… knock, knock.

From the darkness came a voice. “Derek…my mother is calling for you to come.” I walked to the door and looked out. 5-6 pairs of eyes watched, and giggled. They were children, and once my eyes adjusted I could see the familiar faces were those I had recently spent the afternoon with. “We are going to dance for you…” one boy said. I grabbed my headlamp without a moment’s pause.

A parade of Kenyan children and two friends, we marched down the dirt path to the house we once sat outside discussing our different lives. The kids were noticeably fascinated with my headlamp and excited to once again see the camcorder hanging from my shoulder. We approached the house, then entered. Inside, a small homemade lantern dimly lit the room. “We want to dance for you,” said the widow I recently sat with, smiling as bright as the flame we gathered around.

The house was small, simple and though made of dirt-clean. It was one room split into two by system of hanging cloth. We sat round a small table on humble chairs. Then the show began. The children lined up, giggling, bumping into each other as they prepared for their performance. One started modestly and with the cue an explosion of voices. They sung as you might expect African children to sing. Loud, strong, full of conviction. Each had his or her part. One would take the lead, the others echo in support. Then another would sing a verse. Occasionally, one would forget the words, smile and look to the others until they remembered.

Songs, poems, dances the children shared excitedly. I watched with unending smile, thinking to myself occasionally, “I have to remember that dance move…” as a child would balance on tip-toes bouncing his knees together, arms swimming through the air. They sang. They laughed. They entertained until finally the mother said it was time for bed. Pleading for more, they compromised with a song of thanks and when finished we stood and offered our own. Thanks that is, not song.

My friends and I fired up the headlamps and walked back up the rocky road. “I’ve never seen that before,” stated my friend who had lived there for three years. She was just as amazed as I was at what we had just witnessed. There was no question we had been a part of something special. But remarkable as it was, what stood out at the end of the night was the familiarity.

The setting was different. We were in a mud house. Kids were without shoes, the house without power, but I had seen this many times before. Children laughing, shy (initially) to perform for strangers. And though there were no clocks, you still had that recognizable excitement of kids staying up past their bed times and a mother forgiving at first but finally firm, prompting her children to rest.

It’s a theme I’ve noticed in my travels. A theme of humanity. And not get all Bob Marley on you, but it really is amazing how similar we are to each other-no matter how different the setting. That said, this whole night…you know the whole personal performance of African children, singing and dancing in a mud house… yeah, it was pretty unique.


1 John Kimble { 10.24.08 at 10:41 am }

Simply beautiful or beautiful simplicity when it comes to joyful moments in life! Thanks again for sharing….

2 Hannah { 06.22.09 at 9:20 pm }


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