This is Mama Sara, Barack Obama’s grandmother, pictured here with Jess, the founder of Positive Aid in a village close to our project. Mama Sara was actually one of the three wives Obama’s grandfather married, and while she did not birth Barack’s father, she was the one who raised him. Jess was very lucky to spend quality time with her because her friend Liz Aluodo (the nurse who trained our first community health workers) was Mama Sara's carer.
“So many people want to meet Mama Sara and see the home where Barack's father grew up. They are so interested in his life,” Liz told Jess. “But she doesn’t mind, she is just the same old mama that she was before.” Many visitors took turns meeting Mama Sara face to face. She was seemingly unphased by the fuss, comfortable in her own skin and speaking naturally through a niece who translated between Luo mother-tongue and English. Jess was relieved when Liz lead her around the back, diverting away from the exhibition. Liz looked after Mama Sara’s health, but was also a close friend and familiar in the home.
“Hodi ka!” Knock knock! Liz called at the back door, leaning inside. “Donj!" Get in! Mama Sara urged them. The house was made of baked brick instead of mud, and an assortment of photo frames extended high up along the uppermost row. Obama’s portrait hung unassumingly alongside other cousins and uncles. Mama Sara hastily finished up with the tourist she was speaking with, and hobbled through on her walking stick to greet them.
She embraced Liz in a gruff pleasure, and when Liz introduced Jess in Luo, she raised her eyebrows, blasé. But when Jess shook her hand and spoke to her in Luo, she was taken aback. “Ayie!" I give in! she resigned, “Dhoga omoko,” my mouth is stuck. Mama Sara nonchalantly directed her niece to have the visitors wait, African style, and the three of them - Liz, Jess and Mama Sara - sat under the colossal mango tree out the back, eating ripe fruits from the ground and chatting as if under the same tree one hundred years ago.