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Spending Christmas in Kitui, Kenya, with Nduku’s Extended Family

Welcome to Kitui

After hearing so much about it, there was no way I was going to go to Kenya and not visit Kitui. It’s a small town about 110 miles east of Nairobi. It used to be the capital of the Kitui District in Eastern Province of Kenya, but with the current political reforms, Kitui is now the headquarters of Kitui County, which covers a larger area than the former district did.

Kitui town had a population of 13,244 in 1999, but has grown substantially since this. According to the local Non-Governmental Organization KICABA, there are now about 60,000 living in the city, whereas 1,000,000 if you include the outskirts. A large majority of the residents belong to the Kamba, a Bantu people. The Kamba of Kenya speak the Bantu Kamba language (Kikamba) as a mother tongue, and are considered as friendly and welcoming people.

Although most of the sights are located in the outskirts of town, Kitui is a busy trading center, its streets lined with arcaded shops. Every Monday and Thursday is a market day. All sorts of vegetables can be bought, in addition to goats, hens and sometimes even cows.

The two major secondary schools are Kitui High School and St. Charles Lwanga Boys High School. For girls, there is Mulango Girls High and St. Angelas High. Other secondary schools are Tungutu, Chuluni, Changwithya Boys, Matinyani and Katulani Mixed Secondary School.

Most importantly, though, Kitui is where Nduku’s family is from, and we were visiting her grandparents. The ride there alone exceeded my expectations. For whatever reason I thought Kitui was in a region that was dry, flat, dusty with nothing much to see. Instead, I learn, the area is extremely lush and green, it’s hilly as we climbed up and down massive hills and mountains, it’s a scenic ride, especially if you’re from America where everything is overdeveloped or abandoned along the east coast.

Kitui, though, isn’t quite the business center like Nairobi. Though it’s now hosts the headquarters for Kitui County, the center of town is ripe for renovation. You can see where the development is coming to accommodate the people coming because of the reforms, but it’s taking a little longer “downtown.”

Kitui, Kenya
Downtown Kitui, Kenya
Kitui, Kenya
Kitui, Kenya
Jamia Mosque in Kitui
Jamia Mosue in Kitui, Kenya
Stuttgart Restaurant, Kitui, Kenya
Stuttgart Restaurant, Kitui, Kenya
Kitui Coke Distributor
Coke Distributors in Kitui, Kenya

Kitui Bus Stop

Kitui, Kenya
Bride of Christ Church, Kitui
Bride of Christ Church in Kitui, Kenya

Kitui also has a large Muslim population, relative to other towns in Kenya outside of the coast. It also is an area perfectly situated where hotels do well from travelers going back and forth from Mt. Kenya and Mombasa. With the increase in government activity in the area, hotels are renovating, being built and preparing to cash in.

Maybe we’ll build a hotel in the future.

First we stopped by mzee’s parents. They live in a house with a few structures next to the house for the animals and farming, and acres and acres of land. Acres and acres. Mzee took me on a tour of his and his brother’s land. We made our way through stalks of maize taller than us that went on for acres.

When standing at mzee’s parent’s house and look around, you see nothing but green. Mzee led us through the stalks of maize, and we kept going and going and going until we finally reached the edge of his land. Then we walked along the edge to where he has more land, unused and he shared his plans for the future.

Najwa with her mom, great grandparents and cousin Riyana.

Najwa and her great grandmother.
Najwa and her great grandfather.

Four generations of Malombe women


Nduku and her grandmother
Najwa with scratches and mosquito bites all over her face.

Having land in Kenya isn’t just about having room to grow maize and to let the animals graze. Land is more than that. Actually, land is everything. It is who you are. When the colonialists came to Kenya and got a little greedy with the land grab, that’s where they went wrong. All those Kenyan males with no land essentially were Kenyan males with no status. Having land in Kenya means having respect in Kenya.

Mzee has a lot of land.

What better for Christmas than Najwa meeting her great grandparents and other extended family members?

We took a short trip across Kitui to Nduku’s mother’s parent’s house. Her maternal grandfather has passed a few years ago. Her maternal grandmother was there and had a chance to meet Najwa.

We then made one more stop to see more extended family on Nduku’s dad’s side. And one of the most amazing things happened. Najwa is at that stage when she’s scared f everyone and takes a moment to get comfortable with. Including my parents, Nduku’s parents, our friends and everyone. But then a strange man, to Najwa at least, picked her up, and to everyone’s surprise, Najwa didn’t protest. No whining, no crying, no fighting to break free as if she was being snatched off the streets. I’ve heard plenty of people claim they’re good with kids, kids love them and that Najwa would love them. Nyiva’s dad is the only one who can claim that title.

While there we were led through the land, down a small pathway, to a home tucked away in the middle of all the peacefulness, a home that completely caught me off guard. I had no idea. Kitui isn’t quite the richest city with the biggest homes, but this home was something you’d see in travel magazines.

Home is an understatement. Actually, it’s a guesthouse. With a name at that. Casa Chura is the domain of Nduku’s cousin Mutindi who gave us the grand tour. I was in awe. I had no idea such beauty could exist out here — what Casa Chura transformed from the middle of nowhere to an escape from the demands of life.

I didn’t take any photos, though. Sorry. Matindi lives there as well and I felt like I was violating their personal space. But you can learn more about it by liking the Casa Chura Facebook page.

We only spent the day in Kitui, taking off just before the sun started setting. In the distance, there’s this huge, prominent rock jutting out of the ground, dominating the landscape, called Nzambani Rock. But this isn’t any rock.

The locals tell a story about a young lady, named Nzambi, which walked around in the Kitui forests looking for firewood. Suddenly, she found an eye-catching small stone. It was so beautiful that she decides to pick it up and put it to her breast to keep it safe. As she continued to gather firewood, the rock began to grow – bigger and bigger – until it surrounded her and swallowed her completely. Thus, the rock was given the named Nzambani, to honor the young lady. Even today, the locals say that the stone is growing and if you walk towards the rock from a certain side, the rock looks like a woman’s breast.

Another legend is from the days when white missionaries came to the Kitui district. Supposedly, they were met by hostile locals, that didn’t want them to spread the word of Christ. One missionary was cornered by the Kamba warriors and they walked around the Nzambani Rock, looking to kill the missionary. The missionary prayed to God, and eventually stumbled upon some robes that were laying in a cave in the Rock. He put them on, and when the warriors caught up with him, they were shocked. To them, it looked like the missionary had turned into a woman – and they did not kill him. Thus – the legend says that if you walk around the stone seven times, you change sex.

Nzambani Rock

Nzambani Rock in Kitui, Kenya

Nzambani Rock

I always have to explain to Nduku that taking photos of a sunset never comes out like what our eyes can see without photographic equipment that I can’t afford. But, I did what I could.

Sunset in Kitui, Kenya

Sunset in Kitui, Kenya

Sunset in Kitui, Kenya

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