Fear in Kenya

(after Dorianne Laux)

We were afraid that the ferry across the Mombasa Channel—rusty, overfilled—
would sink on our daily commute to school. We were afraid of growing up,
losing letters in the mail, broken tree branches, thorns in our feet, chiggers,
bees, sea urchins, jellyfish, sharks, riptides, spiders, spitting cobras,
tsetse flies, baboon bites, lice, electric fences, hippos, elephants sitting on our cars,
cockroaches flying into our eyes, geckos jumping off the walls.

We were scared of pickpockets, robbers with machetes,
coming out of the bank with our mothers to find our cars stolen,
mosques and temples, bloody meat hanging from hooks at the market, flies,
dark pits of outhouses. We nervously waited

for our cats to cross busy streets to wander in the weeds, village boys to scale palm trees
and retrieve coconuts, coconuts to drop on our heads,
our carpool lorry to pick us up at the matatu stop in the dusty morning,
our Barbies’ heads to fall off as we brushed their hair, the eggs
we cracked for breakfast to have baby chickens in them.

We were afraid of being white, being called wazungu, of wide-eyed kids
who stared and pointed and laughed, of mispronouncing our Swahili, tribal riots,
witch doctors, goats sacrificed under trees, beggars with leprosy touching us
with their rotten half-fingers, that prick of guilt for having (relatively) everything,
neighbors dying of AIDS and malaria, malaria mosquitoes, mouthsores from the malaria-
preventing quinine tablets, dirty water diseases, the rubbery texture of goat lungs,
the long, wailing funeral feasts.

But most of all, we were terrified of leaving all this, going back to America, of The Unknown,
public high school, lockers, freeways, TV, cousins, rooms full of white people, itchy
socks, shoes, and snow.

About the author

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Kristina Pfleegor has spent parts of her life in Kenya, Minnesota, and Hawaii and has traveled several times within Europe…

Read the full bio

Issue 23 · November 2015

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