A green-gold crop of maize covers land toiled by generations of tribal farmers; gently swaying in the cool morning breeze, the harvest stands only chest high from lack of water. The dust that will soon fill the air, kicked up by an endless stream of trucks, remains still in the shadows of the tree line where restless dogs watch for strangers. All within the family compound, both man and beast, settle in for another hour of rest before the dawning light races through the hills around their remote valley.
They’re comforted knowing that Frida—devoted wife, mother, daughter and daughter-in- law—is already in her kitchen. A bare light bulb dimly illuminates the tiny 8×8 foot space where she’ll lovingly prepare the first set of the 28 meals her family will eat today. Frida smiles: one of those rare smiles which, if the sun didn’t rise, if the sky was never blue and were to remain dark and gray, would alone give you enough light to forget your earthly worries. She has no time for small talk this morning. She rushes from the house, where she sets a small table for her husband before he journeys off to work, and then back to the kitchen.
Frida impatiently pokes the wood at the throat of the jikopoa, one of three highly efficient stoves the extended family owns…drifting off for or a moment, she stands still, mesmerized by the steam rising from the pot of boiling water. There’s porridge to make for the children but the first serving, out of respect, is for her husband’s parents, too old now to cook for themselves.
It’s another ordinary day filled with washing clothes by hand, tending the crops and, perhaps, a bit of gossip time with her sister-in-law, Sarah, who lives up the hill. Endless meals will simply appear…food, which, as everyone knows, tastes so much better when made with love. But tonight is a special night. The entire family—the elders, the many sons and their wives and children—will sit down to enjoy supper together in the communal living room at Sarah’s house.
Dawn gives way to the light of day; the red-sky morning yields to soft pink alpenglow behind the horizon and, finally, another starry African night is ushered in to calm the spirits of the weary. Seated around the large room, contemplative looks on the adults’ faces betray their worry over lost income and steadily evaporating savings, nearly depleted now due to elusive rains and another season of crop failures. Sarah knits in the corner, Frida finally settles down for a few moments of peace and quiet, all silently welcome the meal before them. Hushed whispers pass from father to son, brother to brother, husband to wife. At times the mood is somber with each left to their own thoughts.
A younger son walks through the front door joining the weekly ritual. As he tells of his innocent story of elephants chasing him through the forest, suddenly the heavy weight of issues affecting families everywhere around Meru is forgotten with the room falling into uncontrollable laughter…the look on everyone’s faces still makes me smile.
At last the lights are turned down, the children laid in their beds and the door bolted for the night. Frida finally lays her head down to rest. In a few hours, she’ll be found once again at her stove, glowing cherry red, to keep up with her demands. And even though money is short, work for her husband difficult to find, and barely enough food in her bowls to make the next days meal, Frida throws me one of those earth-shattering smiles that makes me for some reason, not worry about such things.
Maybe it’s the love of family or the bond created within. I’m not sure I could single out the sole reason for the warm embrace I received. Yet during the time I spent in their world, Frida and
Sarah expressed that God is looking after them. Lingering over this thought, regardless of your beliefs, when life is hard and loss is everywhere around you,your God is real. Confident in their belief, even in their drought-afflicted community, this close-knit family is far from want. The love they share, the devotion and dedication to survive these hard times, and ultimately their faith, gives them all the strength they need to get through another day, and to endure a hostile world – one which truly lies just beyond their front gates.
–Rodney Rascona, 2011 Lucie International Photographer of the Year: Deeper Perspective