KIMATHI @100

If Kimathi had lived- he would have turned 100 years today-31st October 2020. There is a better way of saying that. If they had not hanged Kimathi on that cold morning of 18th February 1956, he would have the day today regaling his grandchildren with heroic tales of the freedom struggle.

I came across this image that captivated me. Beauty is meaningless unless shared so that’s why I am sharing it. It’s a gothic reimagining of Dedan Kimathi and Mwariama. Kimathi’s visage is stoic, almost nonchalant.Mwariama is towering and menacing. The two gallant men embody our struggle for liberation which they didn’t see to come to be-and thus the reimagining.

The raven on the Field Marshall’s hand is a tricky symbol though. Since it’s a bird of carrion, the raven is often associated with loss and ill omen. Yet its symbolism is complex. As a talking bird, the raven also represents prophecy and insight. Ravens in stories often act as psychopomps, connecting the material world with the world of spirits.

Anthropologists suggest the raven (like the coyote) obtained mythic status because it was a mediator animal between life and death. As a carrion bird, ravens became associated with the dead and with lost souls.

Do Kimathi and Mwariama embody some of the lost souls of our fight for liberation?

NB:

I have no rights to the image.

CASTOR SEED GENERATION

Back in the day, a wiry man appeared in a certain village. Let’s call it Kagumo village since we have several places with that name scattered all over Central Kenya. He had this rough face that betrayed how life had wronged him. But his tongue was smooth as silk.

He had this big bag and a swanky phone that he kept tapping away on-like he was talking to very important people on the other end. He wore sharp shooters like a pastor. Though he didn’t have a collar around his neck, he had an aura of an anointed man. The villagers, staring at him with their mouths agape, started asking him pesky questions about his big phone and what he carried in his bag. He promptly asked for the Chiefs office.

‘I run an NGO that helps women take charge of their reproductive lives’. He told the Chief-a fat man in greasy beret and ill-fitting jungle jacket .The Chief pretended to have grasped the NGO-speak and posed a question:

‘Hio charge unauza pesa ngapi?’‘Actually, we don’t charge for our services-except for a small facilitation fee.’ He then handed the Chief a bundle of crisp notes with good old Jomo’s photo.

The following morning, the Chief went door to door telling the women that there is an NGO that has come with a solution to all their problems. The chairman of the NGO wanted to meet all the women in a baraza to disclose the groundbreaking solution to them. This information was then passed by one eager woman to the other through fences,smses and whispers.The baraza that took place the following day by the cattle dip was the most attended in recent history.

‘Your days of popping pills and using coils and Femiplan are over!’ The young man announced excitedly-his Adams apple moving up and down like an animal that was trapped in his throat. The women tightened their lesos around their waists and listened keenly.

‘You only need to swallow two of these special castor seeds per day-and you won’t go the family way.’He added- with the conviction of an Old Testament prophet. The two hundred or so women looked at the young man with shining eyes-as if though he was the answer to every prayer they had offered.

‘These seeds are natural, organic and cholesterol free!’ He went on. A round of messianic Halleluyias rent the air. Family planning pills do not have cholesterol but who knows that in the village?

Then, Chairlady, a regal looking woman rose up arthritically .She had a tangle of wrinkles no lotion could soften. After the standard testimony about how she saw the light in 1967, she went to the point:

‘Dagitari, can those seeds also help Ibrahim make Sarah happy?’ People will always ask questions with the answer in mind. Several women of her age nodded emphatically. The younger ones giggled.

‘The seed will not only make Ibrahim straight like the cedars of Lebanon, they will give him strength of ten oxen’. Dagitari gave her the answer he wanted. The long suffering grand lady sat down, promising in her heart to secure herself a sack of the magical seeds. For a region where most women spent cold nights alone since their husbands were away taking banned spirits, this was good news. It didn’t strike the women as absurd that it was them who were to swallow the libido boosting seeds and not their men.

After Dagitari was done with his speech, he went to his bag and brought out a small bag. Then he opened it up and took a handful of the seeds into the air like a libation. Then with the deftness of an experienced medic, he showed the crowd how to swallow the magic seeds that will prevent them from getting pregnant and increase their husbands’ desire for them.

‘Those seeds cannot be enough for all of us!’ Chairlady protested.What followed was a stampede for the castor oil seeds. Dagitari said that since the seeds were few, the facilitation fee had gone up so that he bring more castor seeds to the deserving women. In a few minutes all the seeds had been bought.Dagitari then left in haste, promising to bring more magical seeds to those that were left out.

When the women hubbies came home that night, the tangle of limbs, liquids and needs that followed was Olympic. You could see it in the glow of the women as they swayed their hips to and fro as they sang in the choir the following Sunday. Their faces shone with diamonds of perspiration, knowing that they could have all the fun without getting into the family way.

After two months, several women started craving the dark ‘nyamuiru’ sugarcane that grew by the river. Another lot started craving the soil on the walls of the mud houses. Another lot was craving rocks that were sold by some Kisii men. In short, almost anybody who had attended the young man’s meeting was craving something.

Nine months after the young man with the magical castor seeds had visited the village, it was filled with the cries of a batch of new mouths to be feed.This happened some years ago, for the castor seed generation joined form 1 this year.

SICKER THAN US(PART 2)

The sickly white man had declared that we were ‘bery sick’ because of the swellings behind our necks.We knew we weren’t sick, but the way he looked at us with pity made us sick.To avoid the sickness he gave us by telling us that we were very sick, we avoided swimming by the river where he used to pass.

For a long time we never swam.Mango season came and went.Then came the guava season and the fruits that grew near the river had no one to pick.The whole place smelled like a dying orchard. Avocado season followed and every boy doubled in weight for eating too many of them.Finally came the plums-the fruits that said Christmas was around the corner.Still, no boy had died from the swellings on the necks.

But there was a reason for it.When our cucu Wamutirima noticed the swellings on our necks, she had an antidote that worked like magic.She had put the tip of muiko in the fire then rolled it over the swellings.Yes, it hurt, but not like Sister Maculatas injection.Two, the treatment didnt involve removing our shorts which we hated.

After that, the swellings on our necks went away. We forgot about the mzungu who used to run in the mornings.But somehow, the hum of river Kanyiri beckoned us to go swim in it.And so we did.

As sure as mangoes come out in January, the white man came running as before.Poor man! Who had given him the punishment of running from mango season all through to plums season?

When he came,we were seating on a rock, chewing stolen mangoes.Our jaws going up and down like those of a cow chewing a particularly tasty cud.’

Mwenga!’

The pale sick man hailed us.Even now, he had not learnt to say ‘muriega‘.His raw skin was even sicker and reddish like a freshly plucked muchunu chicken.

As usual, he inspected our necks for swellings- expecting to find them having grown bigger.Instead, he found thick healthy necks with no swellings.The way he shook his head indicated that he had expected us very sick- or even dead.

The sick white men then shook his head all the more and spoke in tongues.Then he continued with his unending punishment of running when boys like us were having fun.

Truly, he was sicker than us.

SICKER THAN US

For some time now, the Western world has been trying to figure out why Africans arent dying like flies from Covid- 19.I cant blame them- everyone expects every other calamity to hit Africa hard.But this is not the first time wazungus are wondering why a particular malady insnt killing us by the hundreds as expected.Or planned.

Back in day,when I had knees that stuck out like door knobs, there was this young mzungu who was in a Catholic mission near our home.Some grown up people said he wasnt exactly mzungu but Italiano, but to us boys there was no difference.His nose was so long such that we thought part of it didnt belong to him.Or maybe his teachers had pinched it everyday for it to be that long.His skin was pale like that of a toad that lived on the innerside of banana leaves and never saw the light.My friends and I agreed he was sick.

One Saturday morning, my friends and I were swimming by Kanyiri- the gurgly stream that ran down the gorge where two ridges met like an armpit.The sick white man came jogging from the direction of Kiangunyi Catholic Mission where he was residing.

We definitely knew something was wrong with him.In school, we used to run in June when it was cold. But here was a man running when it was not June. Fine, we weren’t very sure which month it was. But going by the way mangoes hang lowly from the trees, we estimated it must have been January, February or Marchiary.But not June.

Most likely, this pale man was a bad man who was being punished by Fr Nyamu for some mistake by being made to run on early morning.Fr Nyamu was the benevolent padre who headed Kiangunyi Catholic Mission.

Now, when he approached us at the river, he waved at us:’Mwenga?’ He said, smiling.We wondered why he was saying ‘mwenga’ instead of ‘muriega’- the standard greeting.A grown man who couldnt pronounce such a simple word indeed had a problem.We had initially feared him.But since he spoke our language like a small baby, we agreed that he couldnt do much harm to a pack of five boys and their eight dogs-some tame, some stray and some rabid.

When he stopped fearing us and came nearer, he shook the hands of Gatimu,the big boy who could beat the whole Standard Four West.He had repeated class four five times but it didnt matter- he was in our class.We had chosen him to be the first to greet the mzungu just in case he started beating us.Which he didnt.

After greeting us, he finally came to Ragu.Ragu was small, no bigger than a full grown rabbit.His full name was Kiragu.But since he was short, we shortened his name.The shortened name also differentiated him from Kiragu his cousin who was much taller.

Ragu’s ribs jutted out into the air like the roots of tree.His shoulders were like coat hangers.But we didnt care about all that.All we cared for is that he could stealthily steal sugarcanes from Maritha the ever angry old widow without her noticing.In addition to ribs that jutted into the air, Ragu had swellings below the ears that jutted into the air too.His ribs stuck out, his stomach stuck out so we thought it was not odd if the swellings below his ears stuck out too.

‘Bery sick, bery sick’ the sick pale man said after inspecting Ragu with his blue eyes.For sure,we disagreed with that diagnosis.Even our wise dogs disagreed with him.Rather,we knew that this man- with his pale skin and blue eyes and blue veins-was sicker than all of us combined. But we couldnt answer him back in the strange language he spoke through his long nose.

The pale sick man then jogged of uphill- to complete the punishment given to him by the Padre who his host.For the next few Saturdays we swarm as usual.Stole mangoes and guavas too.Munched sugarcanes.But we didnt see him.He must have been scared by ourselves and our thin dogs.

One Saturday morning, he came jogging and found us at the river.We had swam and gotten bored of swimming so we were competing in who could send his jet of urine the furthest- across the stream.’ Muenga!’ He said smiling.Even after being away for so long, he hadnt learnt how to say ‘muriega’ properly.Clearly,this pale man had a problem.

We didnt answer him since we had held our breath so that our jets could fly the furthest across the stream.He waited till we were done with our jetting business which he seemed to enjoy.Instead of admonishing us like our uncle would have done if he had found us at it.

Then he inspected Ragu and found that the swelling under his ears were now bigger.He then inspected all of us and noted that half of us had those swellings.’Mumps.Very bed’. He mumbled, his eyes all sad.He said some prayers and and did a sign of the cross.The way he shook his head- which had hair like maize tassels- clearly meant that soon, we might die.

‘See Sista Immaculate’.He told us.Sister Immaculate was the matronly nurse at the Catholic Mission Hospital. Her sole work was to boil needles and inject anybody with buttocks- however small-who was foolish enough to go to the Hospital.

At the mention of that Sister of the Order of Needles, we picked our clothes, whistled at our trusted dogs and fled downstream where the pale sick man and her sister who loved injecting buttocks couldnt follow us.

( To be continued)

GOD HELP THE CHILD

This weekend, a popular writer lit up the internet after sharing her ‘unmotherly’ relationship with her son.In a long candid Facebook post,she opened up on how she doesnt love her son of seven years.This post isnt about her, or her son, but about the complex social issues raised by that post.

In one of her last novels- God Help the Child- Toni Morrison tells the story of a black woman called Sweetness who gives birth to a child she hates from the word go.

While Sweetness is lightskinned, with hair colour they call ‘high yellow’, the child’s skin is midnight black.Black than a Sudanese.The child- whose name is Bride- has curly hair like those naked tribes of Australia.Sweetness hates the child from the start.

Bride grows up without her mother’s love and affection.Sweetness wont even touch her daughter’s skin without a sponge or cloth.Her colour becomes the cross she had to always carry.

In the end, its Sweetness cruelty to her daughter that impacts on Bride’s life, rather than the colour of her skin. She ends up a fractured child- just like her mom. This is a recurring theme in Toni Morrison’s novels.

Many readers of the book say that Sweetness suffered from post partum depression.I have a problem with the increasing lay use of the word ‘depression’ , together with its prefixes like post partum, clinical,etc.This is because it leads to medicalization of phenomena that are social in nature.

Two,there’s the danger of lumping of complex social phenomena into a single medical condition.Which in turn leads to use of medical means to solve psycho- social problems.

So what is post partum depression?Does ithave biological roots- such as dramatic changes in hormones that occurs after birth?Or does it occur from social causes- such as lacl of support in the motherhood role? Or does it-like in the fictional example of the Sweetness above-originate from unmet expectations in the looks of the new-born baby?

We need to discuss post partum conditions in women. But while we do that, we need to avoid exploring it solely as a medical condition that requires to be solved by popping in anti- depressants. We also need to explore it as a culturally bound syndrome that originates in the mother’s pyscho- social environment.