We are on a queue at the Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, France waiting to board our flight to Kenya. The kids spot a little girl who could pass for their sister a few people ahead. They shyly look at each other and with some encouragement start to wave. Within minutes, they learn that the girl’s name is Elisabeth and she is 3.
With the children’s courage in mind, I say hello to the mom. She asks where we are coming from and tells us they have just gotten off a quick flight from London. The line keeps moving, the kids keep waving and smiling. Finally, the line splits into two. They proceed to business class and we take our economy seats. I think that’s the end of that.
Leap of faith
8 hours later, we land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). When we go to the baggage claim area, the kids spot each other again and are hugging as though they’ve known each other their whole lives. We ask each other where in Kenya we are headed. Our new friends still have another 5 hours travel on the train to “the Farm” in Mombasa on the Coast of Kenya.
We mention that we will be traveling to the North Coast for vacation. She invites us to go visit her farm to visit. We exchange numbers and promise to stay in touch. On Friday Feb 9th we fly to Malindi. Two days later, we hire a car to drive us to her farm.
When we arrive, our hostess – aka CJ BlackDiamond – is surrounded by two aunts, three sisters, two brothers, a grandniece, grandnephew and workers on the farm. The workers are mostly Ugandan – CJ intimates that workers from outside the country are less likely to go home while she is away and are also less likely to steal. They appeared stronger too in comparison to the Kenyan laborers I saw. Apparently Ugandans eat big meals. Our breakfast was our leftover dinner of goat soup with potatoes, chapati with tea, bananas, juice and more. Note to Kenyans – we should eat more protein – bread and tea is not enough for breakfast. Also, rice with potato stew doesn’t cut it either 🙂
Our new friend CJ is a powerhouse. It’s my first time on the Kenyan Coast and I was feeling so groggy from the heat and humidity. CJ on the other hand appeared energetic and was delegating duties to her workers, hugging on her family, making sure the kids were settled and so on.
About 4 hours after our arrival, CJ gave us a tour of her farm. We commented on how greener, and cooler her property was in comparison to her neighbors’ properties. She has offered seeds and seedlings to them, but they either lack a green thumb or are not bothered. CJ’s 5-acre piece of land is beautiful with all sorts of fruit trees – mangoes, oranges, papaya, pineapples, passion fruit, sour sop, coconut every sort of tree you can think of.
CJ envisions this investment as a space where friends can enjoy the farm. She is constructing working stations with computers, and her plan includes a helipad on the roof, an infinity pool, a huge theater/TV that you can watch from the pool, a conference center and a wedding venue.
I am shocked and honored that she is telling this to us – relative complete strangers. But her excitement is infectious and we feel inspired to have met such a big dreamer. She is creating roads through the property and points to where the picnic area, pier and gazebo will stand. She wants to organize the orchard in such a way that weddings will be hosted in it. We really can’t wait to be back to see it all in action.
As we drove around with CJ – first in a car, then in a tuktuk – we learned about how she chooses to empower everyone she encounters. For instance, she trusted the tuktuk driver with a 1000 Kenyan shillings so he could buy us some refreshments for the kids. When he came back with change, she didn’t count it. She trusted he would be honest.
When she on boards her workers, she lets them know that their salary will not be great but that they will be set after they are done working for her. CJ has bought each of her workers a piece of land, and helped them to develop rental properties on it so they can have an income. Having an income back home reduces the calls they receive for money and subsequently their stress levels. With this issue taken care of, they can focus on the work she needs them to do.
CJ knows of our dream to build some rental properties in Kenya so she stopped by a rental high rise project she has and showed us the progress there. Outside the apartments was a hair salon where a young woman eagerly greeted her. I later learned that she built that salon for her when she found her working in a makeshift stall. Empowering this woman changes her family’s trajectory and helps her to believe in human decency. We took so many notes from CJ!!
In Uganda, she runs a student housing project specifically for women who face discrimination from university housing due to early pregnancies or their health. She has also helped her Ugandan workers to be fluent in Swahili. I asked one of the ladies who helps her what other languages she spoke and she said Luganda. English? No, she didn’t go to school and cannot read. She believed she was bewitched. When she was at home she could see clearly, but whenever she went to school during tests, she couldn’t see the page. Jared wondered if it was dyslexia… Sylvia – the worker – told me that when she first started working at the farm, CJ would teach her Swahili vocabulary like cup=kikombe and so on until she got it.
A Hurting Daughter
When we first got into CJ’s property on Sunday, we wondered if we’d crushed a family gathering. One of the sisters had gotten the aunties some lesos (wrap around cloth). In gratitude, the aunts spent several minutes each praying and pouring blessings over the women and their families.
Through this we came to learn that CJ’s mother had been critically ill and had just come out of a coma. We were amazed at her ability to host so graciously and serve others while hurting so much. CJ spoke lovingly of her mom. She has traveled the world with her, and has been building with her since the age of 17. She and her mom designed her farm together – including mom designing a bridge – a way to redirect mushy water into a reservoir on the property.
We got to see mom at the hospital and though she was sleeping, she looked good. We are praying for CJ’s family, for strength, wisdom, blessings and peace in the storm.
Karibu (welcome) Thetribe45
There are 44 tribes in Kenya. CJ named her property Thetribe45 so people who didn’t feel like they belonged in the 44 tribes could call the farm home. These people could be tourists, children like ours who are Kenyan+, Kenyan Asians who have no tribe etc.
Though born a Kamba (one of the 44 tribes), many of CJ’s siblings were raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and later in Mombasa. Younger Kenyans do not have as strong an affinity to what tribe they are from as older generations did. Instead they choose to create their own tribe. This tribe seeks to be trustworthy, to work hard, to give back not only to those from their nations/tribes but to anyone who deserves or needs a helping hard. This tribe is tired of corruption, and working towards a productive Kenya even with the government making it harder to do so. It’s a tribe that can appreciate and even celebrate differences but choose not to discriminate.
It’s a tribe we are proud to be a part of. Our past week has been full of such tribe mates and the next few days will be as well. These are people that truly fill our cups.
Cheers to you CJ and those like you. We can’t wait to see where the Thetribe45 goes. We’ll be back and I’ll encourage my friends to visit too – as long as there is a pool 🙂
Ps CJ has had manuscripts for over 10 years now and hopes to publish. We’d brought along Yana Goes to Kenya as a gift to Mwende and CJ loved it. She didn’t know I was an author and was motivated to publish as soon as she has time.
Pps Elisabeth -Mwende on the farm – is a valentine’s day baby so she turns 4 today. Mwende means love in the Kamba language. Happy birthday Mwende!!