Pilgrimmage to Mama Obama's Village of Kogelo and the Millennium Village of Sauri, Kenya

This is an addendum of sorts to my rather verbose and opinionated trip dispatch from Kisumu, under the guise of a review/reflection on The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Kisumu was really just our hopping off point to the villages of Sauri and Kogelo, in the nearby Siaya district. The Millennium Village of Sauri was the excuse for our trip to Western Kenya, on the shores of Lake Victoria, but I was hoping to also get to see Kogelo, where Obama's father was from and his grandmother still lives. We went to Sauri the first day. Here's some of what we saw along the way.

charcoal and roasted maize (yum) peddlers

Charcoal and Roaster Maize


scene from Yala, the nearby larger town

Yala roadside


another scene from Yala



montage of footage going from Kisumu to Sauri and Kogelo, to Obama medley

We were with some other American visitors, so kind of did the typical site visit stuff, going to the clinic, the borehole, the school, etc.

along the road in Sauri

along the road


child walking through shamba on way to fetch water

child on way to spring past farm


rooster and school children washing their plates

Sauri school with rooster


donkeys carrying water

water donkeys


basketball Kenyan style

net ball

The coolest part though, was meeting Paul Okong'o. We ran into him digging a new fish pond. He stopped what he was doing and gave us an impromptu tour. Encouraging to see people on the ground like Paul, that will still get their hands dirty (literally), but is also thoughtful and gets the big picture and how it all fits together, and can communicate this effectively. His fish pond project tied in all sorts of innovative initiatives, from watershed management, nutrition (fish were used for nearby school meals), poultry (chicken coops were placed over fish ponds so droppings would feed fish), etc. He also had nearby crops and various animals, cows and goats, whose droppings were used to fertilize the crops, and that also fed on the grass growing on the banks of the fish pond. It was this awesome ecosystem he had going. Here's some video snippets and pictures I got of Paul Okong'o in action.


chicken coop strategically placed over fish pond

chicken coop over fish pond


Paul Okong'o demonstrating the benefits of using natural fertilizers

Paul Okong'o with Amaranth


Paul Okong'o talking about water while the next generation listens

Paul Okong'o


at the springs

Paul Okong'o at spring

Paul Okong'o is my hero.

Kogelo and Mama Obama

On Sunday, our trusty "little bro" Daniel took us to Kogelo. We had no idea what to expect really. I just wanted to see the area that spawned Obama's father. How could you not being so close? It actually wasn't too far from Sauri. Instead of turning off at Yala for Sauri, you take another road for some ten or fifteen minutes. Here's the junction to the road to Kogelo.

Kogelo Jct

Obviously they need to update their signs! The dirt road was graded the week before the election, to make way for all the international journalists. The day after the election, they installed electrical lines all the way to Kogelo (note shiny wires above). Some places wait for years, but the lines to Kogelo were installed overnight! On one hand it's kind of sad that Kogelo would get such preferential treatment just because Obama got elected. But on the other hand, if that's what it takes—the stigma of having the United States realize that their president comes from a place that doesn't even have electricity—then that's great, as long as the rest of the country follows suit. We went by Obama's father secondary school. Next thing we know we were driving up the driveway to the gate of his grandmother's home. There were some guards camped out in tents by her front gate. I got out thinking that was as far as we'd go. But they opened the gate and said we could come in. We chatted with the guards and signed the guestbook. I glanced through it and saw that there was some 20-30 visitors a day, mostly from Kenya, some from Germany, and only one or two that I noticed from the U.S. And there was Mama Obama sitting under a tree talking to some people. The guard told us that if we waited a few minutes we could talk with her. Jess and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was all very surreal. I couldn't believe of all the homes on all the dusty backroads in the world, this was Obama's grandmother's. Barack's father's grave was set off to the side, as was his grandfather's grave. Barack's father's home, when he remarried and returned to Kenya, was next door. I realized I was wearing a T-shirt, so I went to throw on a dress shirt that luckily I had in the car. Then we were introduced to Mama Obama and sat in plastic chairs under the shade of a mango tree just chatting with her for a good half hour. She doesn't speak English so Daniel and one of the guards translated. I told her that the day Obama was elected was the single proudest moment in my life as an American, and meant it. Jess asked her what her favorite food was. I had my video camera but just wanted to enjoy the moment. Half way through, I got some footage.

on the way to Kogelo and chilling with Mama Obama


The Obama home (old house in back, new one in front)

Obama home


Jess with Mama Obama

Jess with grandmama Obama


hanging with Daniel and Mama Obama in the shade of her mango tree

Hanging with Mama Obama


baby calf that Mama Obama bought the day Obama was elected

Barack cow


Barack Obama senior's grave

Obama's grave



(c) 2008 Derek White