When Dr. Alysn (Jones) Otinga, a native of Kansas, allowed her then eight-year-old son, Cosmas Otinga, CJ, to travel to Kenya to visit his father’s family; she had her concerns.
“My initial fears stemmed from the belief that he wouldn’t return. I thought traveling over 8,000 miles without me would be hard for him,” reveals Alysn. However, her fears were allayed by daily calls and videos from CJ’s grandparents, step-mother, and extended family members.
CJ surprised his mother with his ease of adaptability, but also his father’s family, as they were unaware of his trip to Kenya. He traveled to Kenya accompanied by his father, Ian Otinga.
Before CJ’s trip, Alysn’s knowledge of the East African country was quite limited. “I knew about the food and climate, as well as a few Kiswahili words, but I wasn’t well-versed in what he would potentially be experiencing on his trip.”
CJ with his grandfather the day after his arrival
First night in Kenya with his grandma
CJ received a genuine African welcome. Though they had been to see him in America prior, they were overjoyed to have him with them on home soil for the first time, and eager to shower him with love and immerse him in the culture.
Bonding With The Land and The People
During his month-long stay, his grandfather wanted to show him as many traditional customs as possible. CJ visited his father’s school and his grandfather’s village.
CJ visiting his grandfather’s village
CJ visiting his father’s primary school
They taught him how to wash clothes in the river, pick maize (corn) and groundnuts. He was allowed to attend his uncle’s pre-wedding ceremony, where they danced from home to home.
In the village, he met many of his cousins and learned new Kiswahili words. He also went on safari, where he met Maasai warriors and saw many animals up close, which he’d only see in the zoo here—the Big 5.”
With Maasai menfolk
In just one month, CJ’s connection to his roots transformed his life. His mom noticed his darker, richer skin tone, and inside, there was a newfound pride in being African and Kenyan.
“He talked about his trip to anyone who would listen for months, after returning to Kansas. He also presented information from his trip to his class.”
CJ’s first catch by the river
Along with the euphoria of his first visit, CJ dreams of returning, and Alysn is all too happy to make it happen. “I would like for him to travel to Kenya at least once every two years. Living in Kansas, where Black Americans make up around eight percent of the population, it’s a blessing for him to go somewhere, where there are people that look just like him, and his blackness is celebrated.”
CJ with his cousins in the village
CJ is also the first person in Alysn’s family to set foot on African soil, an opportunity she wished her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents could have experienced. “We have no real knowledge of our tribe or the culture we descended from.”
CJ says “Goodbye Kenya” (for now)
But with CJ, they have a link. He is now a bridge between cultures, as he finds kinship in the land of his ancestors, thus strengthening the roots of his identity, thousands of miles from home.