In a country where the average lifespan is 63 years, Lucy Rator is an anomaly. The sharp, spritely grandmother to more than 20 is somewhere around 84 or 85--although she is no longer quite sure.
Born at the end of the 1920s, she has lived through the hardships of British colonialism, the ushindi of independence, the emergence of the Kenyan republic, and years of development, change, and disruption.
But when asked about the modern moment, she is nothing but pessimistic.
"If I compare the current state of affairs to the past, it is very different," she said through a translator. "It is very negative."
Those are strong words for an otherwise gregarious, open woman. A long-time community leader, she laments how her village has changed in recent years.
Ms. Rator has seen a lot of change, of course. She lives on a 42-acre shamba that she and her husband Samuel bought in 1964 with a loan from the then-fledgling Kenyan government. For years, she farmed as he preached in local African Inland Churches, and together they raised six children--three boys and three girls.
"If I could, I would prefer to live in the past," she said, leaning forward in a maroon armchair that loomed high behind her. "It was better back then, in the country's earliest years."
In that time, people worked together and helped one another, she said, comparing the country to a collective or a self-help group. Neighbours could wander onto each other's land, for spontaneous visits or to lend an extra farmhand.
But now, interactions are tainted with suspicion. People fear thugs, thieves, or sorcerers, she said, and instead confine themselves inside their farms. Rather than making good neighbors, more fences have meant more mistrust.
Some of Ms. Rator's gloom may stem from old age. Many of her neighbors are new faces that she does not recognize, and in 2004, she lost her partner of 55 years when Pastor Samuel passed away.
"Most people I knew around here who are my age have died or migrated away," she said.
Perhaps more of her traditionalism that scorns modernity is born out of tragedy. In 1999, her youngest child was killed in a car accident on the highway. He was just over 35 years old.
Only three years later, her eldest son--a pastor who followed in his father's footsteps, a father himself to six children--was riding in a matatu when it crashed on the highway. The collision claimed four lives, including his and his wife's.
"I never anticipated the death of my children--how can you?" she said, soft eyes staring into the sunlight of her front window. She paused, before adding, "I put everything before God."
Despite her fears and her sorrow, she still has hope for her family--her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and maybe even great-great-grandchildren. In her mother
tongue, she does not distinguish the generational differences.
"You cannot live a life based on fears," she said. "God is good--trust in him."
Follow Dan Griffin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/selfhelpafrica