This is home

I bet you have never been to Kaplong. Hell, I bet you have not even heard about it before. I would not blame you, though – Kaplong is a sleepy little nondescript town that no one talks enough about.

We were down there over Easter (me, my siblings, our personal persons and our children) and I can assure you that the essence and spirit of this little town still blooms magnificent in our hearts and minds.

Someday we will write songs about it. 

Kaplong is in Bomet County. We are in an election year, so I think you should know that our incumbent governor is Dr Hillary Barchok. He is, uhm, handsome in that Kipsigis way men like him are handsome. If you close one eye and look at him through the tines of a fork, you will agree that he looks like Morris Chestnut, what with his bald head and wild eyebrows, that dewy skin the colour of ground coffee. 

Barchok is seeking a second term in office. 

Telling you who our Women Rep and MCA is will burden this story with more details than is necessary. What is necessary though, is that we have not had county water running from our taps since the last General Election. They said they had to cut the supply when building the tarmacked roads that fed into the villages – ours included – but that project was completed years ago and still no county water.

Kaplong is about three and a half hours away from Nairobi. It is lush with postcard-perfect greenery, the air smells richly of cattle.

To get to Kaplong, you will take the shorter route through Limuru Road then left into Mai Mahiu, around the Escarpment, through Narok and past Bomet, keep driving on straight, no turns. 

You will know you have reached Kaplong when you get to the end of the road. Quite literally. 

Kaplong is a T-junction border town at the end of the road. We have landmarks – there is one National Oil petrol station that has been there since Moi days, there is that hospital run by nuns where our firstborn sis was born and high schools that make it to the best-performing list. There are also several kiosks that have been hammered in using a special atmospheric brand of laissez-faire.

Kaplong does not have much to offer, I am afraid. None of the major retail chains or coffee houses have set up shop in Kaplong. We neither have a variety of petrol stations nor malls with escalators.

Escalators, my goodness! I can imagine hoards of locals leaving home giddy and dressed up to go ride the escalators up and down, all day, up and down, up and down. They will leave their poor cows unmilked, chickens unfed, laundry unfinished. 

There are no tourist resorts in Kaplong to speak of. No nightclubs with a social media following. No vacation rentals listed on Airbnb. There is no one from Kaplong who has put us on the worldmap.

Kaplong is… Kaplong. 

Anyway, at the T-junction, take your right and follow the road. In about seven kilometres, two of which are off the highway, you will reach the village of our dairy farm. 

This is our home. 

My retired parents live on the farm with their cows and our little brother, his name is Philip but everyone – every Kenyan, he-he – calls him Philo. 

(‘Little’ here means he is younger than I am, he is the second to last child in our family of seven. I am the fourth, the middle child. You know how middle children are, don’t you? Our cows are the step brothers and sisters my Ol’Man is yet to formally introduce us to. But as of this moment, I am confident that he dotes on them more than he does us. As a middle child, I am embarrassed to admit that I am jealous of how much those cows are loved.)

Years ago, the family sent Philo down there to think about his life choices but the farm – and the cows, Kaplong itself – cracked open several unexpected choices about his life.

Philo has matured into the farm manager. He is the cog on the wheel the farm runs on. He is dedicated and diligent, self-driven – you will hear him every morning before sunrise, steel gallons in his hands knocking against one another, gumboots melching the soaked grass, heading down to milk the cows. 

Millenials are always harping about being able to work independently in a team with little to no supervision – ha-ha – but Philip exhibits these ethos so beautifully and so naturally, with such easy grace. Even his hands are calloused, his skin is leathery with sunburns but he is not throwing a fit about SPF.

Philo has gathered a treasure trove of knowledge whose experience cannot be traded for any academic smarts. 

He is now a cow whisperer. He knows which cow is a bully and which one likes to be rubbed on the neck in affection, what to say to soothe them. He knows how to regulate the frequency of his energy around them.

He knows how much dairy feed they each take on a daily basis. As he took us on a tour of the farm, speaking in that urban sheng that Kaplong has failed to erase, he said to us about milk output, ‘This cow gives us 40 litres and this one 50. This one is not lactating so it’s only 30.’

I was impressed. 

Philo is teaching us a lot about surrendering to the unfamiliar and trusting that doors will open, especially in places where you imagined there was no door.

Kaplong, our sleepy little hometown. 

Yet for everything it is and everything it is not, Kaplong is the only place in the world where I can be a child again.

Here is something no one tells you: when you grow up and become an adult, when you take on another’s last name and your love births children of your own, you stop being a child yourself. 

There is no duality here – when you become a parent, you are no longer a child. 

Let that sink in for a second. 

You are the parent, your children are the children. 

Let that sink in for another second.

Your children are looking to you for comfort and safety, warmth, for direction about what to eat and what time to sleep, how to label their emotions and express their feelings, solutions to all their problems. They are looking to you for decisions about where to go to school and the value system they will adopt. ‘What God should we pray to?’ they will ask. ‘What do we say when we pray?’

You are their home. 

You are, to a great degree, now living for them. 

The weight of this responsibility is as terrifying as it is gratifying. 

I am a little pissed that I had to learn this years after I became a parent myself. 

GB’s retired parents live in Nairobi. When we visit them, it is as though GB folds himself into the cocoon of time: he takes on the demeanour of a nine-year-old boy. GB becomes…what’s the word? Not moony. Not dream-like. Argh, English fails me, let me describe it then. It is as though he is speaking through the glass wall of a distant past. Even his voice becomes squeaky, his mannerisms pubescent.

There are instances when his beloved parents engage him not as Baba Nani but as Baby Nani. And guess what? Everyone seems to take delight in this. At some point during the visit, I imagine GB will climb onto his mother’s lap and put his thumb in his mouth, ha-ha.

In Kaplong, with my parents and their cows and our home, I, too, am like a little girl again. I am a child.

I take all my masks off, I show my shortcomings, my ugliness. I am no longer stoic, I allow myself to cry. I allow myself the pleasure of letting someone else take care of me and make decisions for me. Hell, to even think for me. Mummy, what are we eating for supper? Or, Daddy, my eye is paining. 

In Kaplong, I am not any of those professional credentials I throw at you, I am not my achievements – or my disappointments – no matter their degree. 

I am not Mrs Kinyatti, neither am I Mama Muna or Mama Njeeh. 

I am Flora. 

Just Fra.

An edited version of this story first ran in the Saturday Nation, under my Culture column. It ran on May 7, 2022

Photo by Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash

To Valentine
Njeeh is born

Comments (6)

  1. Chebet

    Wow I miss Kaplong…spend like all my childhood there…
    Philip has impressed me….yaani he can milk…ata sina comments…He has surprised me.
    That photo!!

    • Bett

      I know, right?! Quite the pleasant surprise. So you and I must be neighbours, aye? I will look for you someday, we have chai together.

      That photo is dope but it’s not mine. Thank you for reminding me to be crediting them from Unsplash, where I get them for free.

  2. bankelele

    May you put Kaplong on the map.

  3. Vincent Kiplangat

    Hello Florence, I stumbled upon your book through the Instagram stories of Just_Ivy. What a great book. Kaplong and specifically Kamirai is my home. I get nostalgic memories through this blog. Oops, you forgot to mention that we have our own Filla Rosa Kempinsky at Kaplong. The drive down to Kaplong is always refreshing.

  4. Moraa Valentine

    This was so beautifully written Bett.

    When you talk of your farm, I imagine running my own farm someday. The farm for anyone who enjoys the farming is like living and working in paradise.

    There is something special about being cooked for by your mum. In campus when I avoided going home, my mum could entice to visit her by promising to cook all the meals specifically chapo and managu

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