Siapei (See-ya-pay) is the name of the town where we lived through the earliest years of my childhood. Well, I don’t know what qualifies an area as a town. To the best of my limited recollection, there was a church, a clinic, an orphanage, and our little neighborhood.
Our house seemed enormous to my little toddler self. When I went back as an adult, I was shocked and a teensy disappointed to find that it was pretty small. There was a side of me that was pleased to find that it is a quaint old house full of character and quirks. The interior walls were covered in white plaster. There were strange nooks and curvy walls. Green and gold curtains covered in diamond patterns. Our house was always full of people. Whether it was Pastor Paul, an ancient Maasai pastor stopping by for chai, or missionaries stopping in on the way to or from the city, the walls of this house surrounded so many people with love. My mom made certain of that.
The back door opened to uneven concrete steps that led down into the grass. There was a big yellow picnic table begging to be piled with food, people, and laughter.
Our little neighborhood had some great characters who became like family.
Rosemary was a sweet old woman. I believe she was an adult literacy teacher, but to me she was Kokoo (ko KO) which means ‘Grandma’. She had curly gray hair, twinkling brown eyes that were kind of shaped like little triangles tucked behind her glasses. She played an accordion and wore polyester. When she received boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese from America, she would save them for a special night when she would invite my brother and me over for dinner. She always sliced up hot dogs to put in and we thought she was brilliant. Kokoo let us draw on the chalkboard in her classroom, she sang songs to us, she let us pop her bubble wrap. We went for rides in her little old orange VW bug. Her sweet laugh shook her shoulders and made her rock a little bit sideways. She smelled clean like a fresh bar of soap. To this day, when I smell certain brands of soap, I am instantly transported back to her side. How I loved her.
Anne was a traveling nurse who was legally blind, which made the roads a terrifying place if her driver was not available. Who lets a little thing like blindness stop them from driving? Not her.
There was a huge German Shepherd named Judy. I still don’t really know to whom she belonged.
There was another family that lived there. Ray was a veterinarian. His wife, Vicki, was full of fun and life. They had two little girls who were younger than my brother and me by a year or two. Ray had built the girls a little play kitchen and I loved to play there. Vicki introduced me to Hush Puppies (which I called Shush Dogs when I was trying to tell my mom what we ate), and Jolly Ranchers. Ray and Vicki were full of laughter. So patient and kind and generous. The girls were my playmates and friends. This family was also my first introduction to tragedy and mourning, but that is another post for another day.
Although the details of these memories may be blurry and marred by years, they are fond memories. Perhaps Siapei is more about the warmth I feel with recollection than actual memories, but it is recalled with fondness either way.