Patrick Ombassa returned home to a greeting so joyous that it brought tears to his mother's eyes.
She killed a prized chicken for dinner. After all, Mrs. Ombassa's most successful son only comes home once a year and in rural Africa chickens are saved for important visitors.
Wearing a well-cut plaid suit and an open-collar sports shirt, Patrick Ombassa looked the part of a country squire in contrast to his barefoot brother and father. He has left his family's seven-acre farm after finishing junior high school 14 years ago and he now earns about $160 a month as a clerk with a Nairobi bus company. Like most of Africa's urban workers. Ombassa still straddles uneasily the contrasting worlds of his rural origins and urban work place.
His heart is at home on the slopes of Kisii District in western Kenya, but his family's subsistence farm there barely supports his parents and his older brother's family. In rural Kenya only commercial farmers, teachers and successful businessmen earn what Ombassa makes in Nairobi.
To send children to school, most people in Ombassa's densely populated homeland must supplement their Ombassa's agricultural activities by distilling and selling moonshine or picking tea on nearby plantations.
Ombassa does not earn nearly enough to take advantage of the Western-style amenities that Nairobi offers Kenya's expanding middle class and the glitter of urban life wore thin years ago. Since then, he has been dreaming of being able to return home to stay.
"I expect to be able to go home by about 1981 or 1982," Ombassa says. "There's a lot more money in the reserves now and by then I should be in a position to start my own business."
Ombassa pointed out that since he left kisii District there has been a proliferation of schools in the area but parents have to spend a full day traveling to and from Kisii town to buy their children's books.
"I could start a small bookshop and also sell records and cassettes because now many people have battery-operated record players and cassette players," he said, remarking on how living standards have improved since he left in the mid-1960s.
Another idea of Ombassa's is to buy a diesel-powered hammer mill to grind local farmers' corn. Most rural Kenyan women used to spend hours pounding corn with a large wooden mortar and pestle to prepare ugali, Kenya's national dish. These days women who can afford it prefer to take their grain to local mills which now abound in more prosperous agricultural districts.
If neither of these ideas pans out, Ombassa says he could open a bar serving bottled beer. Before Kenya's independence from Britain 15 years ago, bottled beer was a luxury few Kenyan's could afford, but Ombassa believes a bar could now succeed in Obwari.
In Nairobi, Ombassa lives in a cramped one-room rowhouse 40 minutes by bus from his work. He pays about $15 a month for the flimsily constructed dwelling which, though electrified, has no plumbing or cooking facilities besides his kerosine hotplate.
Similar quarters nearer to work cost $50 a month, far more than Ombassa can afford. As is customery in Africa, he is paying for the education of a nephew and he also sends money home to help his parents. Last year he bought 30 second-hand paper-backs to help start a library at a new hight school in Kisii District.
Most Kenyans from the countryside, Ombassa, believes rural girls who come to town often become blinded by the bright lights and fall prey to social corruption and economic exploitation. Few men in his slum bring their wives to live with them and most of the unmarried there are prostitutes or working mothers with illegitimate children.
Ombassa, in his early 30s, would like to marry a girl from home but spends too little time there to find a worthy bride.
Rural Kenyan men are driven to town out of ecnomic necessity and when they have saved some money, their first big investment is generally to build a house at home. On the Ombassa family plot in Obwari, Patrick has constructed a three-room house with cement floors and a corrugated steel roof. The house is of a much higher standard than is common for the area's largely subsistance farmers.
The conception of the urban African worker as a temporary sojourner in town still exists. Few Nairobi dwellers of Ombassa's age were born in towns, although the emerging urban middle class prefers to raise its families in towns where schools are betterand a consumer lifestyle is available.