‘BABA YAO’My Jaa-nuary has generally been drama free.We men rarely get into drama when broke.Until yesterday.I was lazing in the sitting room, scratching my scaly knees when First Lady cooed:’Wee, nduthie woe mwariguo cukuru.’You, go and pick your daughter from school.Broke men are very obedient.I headed to the school and found the kids sitted outside their classroom, waiting to be picked.The young Kenyan who calls me dad rushed to me and we headed to the gate.’Wewe mzee, unaenda wapi na huyo mtoto?’The ‘soldier’ who is more familiar with mama watoto asked gruffly.I explained that I was the girl’s dad but he refused to buy the idea.He surveyed me, surveyed the young belle,shook his head then blurted out:’Hakuna kitu kama hio!’What he meant is that the child bore no resemblance to me and thus I was likely a child abductor at work.I dont blame him.By some mysterious happenstance,my children have refused to inherit my mango shaped head.I dared him to ask the child who I was.’Mami huyu ni nani?’ He asked my daughter.’Baba yao.’ My daughter answered without batting an eyelid.’Baba yako ama baba yao?’ Soldier asked her again, perplexed.’Baba yao.’ She repeated, confidently.’Mzee, huyu mtoto sio wako.’ Soldier issued his verdict with finality.My elder girl, the one I have named after my mom, has always jokingly called me ‘Baba Yao’.Her kid sister picked that moniker from her.It took the intervention of the school head, who knows me from way back, for the minor to be released to me.
Being broke can make one very creative-happened to me yesterday afternoon. After getting bored almost to death indoors, I sauntered to Karwitha’s place, hoping to find a benevolent soul to cheer me up.
But since no benevolent soul was there, I coaxed Karwitha to give me drinks on credit. I ordered the drink with a photo of the mountain on it.Karwitha calls it ‘ Whitekaf’. In my digs we call it ‘ mukurino’ since its white top conjures the image of a turbaned man.
When the bill came, it had two drinks. One Karwitha’s, one mine. Hats how she operates- this petite belle from the lush highlands of Katheri.If you have to get credit, she has to drink on you.
Btw all girls working in these one-star joints share alumnus. Just like all cops went to one college- Kiganjo.Where they were taught to be cunning, sly, and manipulative.
In windy Habaswein, there was Muthoni from Embu. She would cook a chicken that surprisingly would lack a gizzard or had one drum stick or one wing but still charge you for a whole chicken.
Then there’ s Wanja- the walking siren with a humongous derriere that can cause a solar eclipse. Which she wiggles invitingly as she serves her customers which gives them some randy hopes. But after clocking out, she sashays home alone because she prefers her derriere shaken, not stirred.
But the above three are angels when compared to Giceeri from my hometown. Giceeri cooks tumbukiza for you but eats half of it while its cooking and the other half with you as you struggle to keep with her eating pace.
Very sly girls I tell you.
Anyway, back to Karwitha.By 4pm, my bill was nearing 2k since for every drink I took, she took one. It’s at that moment that a brainwave hit me.
I recalled there was this acquaintance who owed me 5k which could settle that bill and leave me with some shekels for tumbukiza. Since Dec, the chap had adamantly refused to pick my calls and respond to my smses.
I summoned all the English I learnt at Njiiri School, all the Literature Prof Imbuga taught me at K.U. and sent him a terse message:
” Look. If I don’t get my pound of flesh before with bid this day adieu, I will post in Buyer Beware Group that you pilfered me. I will also post the same on my timeline and tag your in-laws, your bosses, mistresses etc. The ensuing pecuniary embarrassment on your side will be of gargantuan proportions.”
I was only kidding the chap- I do not know any of his in-laws. Nor his bosses or mistresses. Shortly thereafter, the guy called and begged me not to do so, promising to pay up by end of day.
“You have under two hours” I reminded him curtly and cut off.
Before the sun closed its eyes, the Mpesa message came in.Hata na ya kutoa.I smiled and promptly settled Karwitha’s bill and ordered for tumbukiza.Now I could party without my bill being doubled.
This, partly, explains why some akorino-esque drums are booming in my head this morning.
I have always kept a journal since my college days. My 2001 journal tells me that my maternal grandmother- Josephine Wanjiku- went to be with the Lord on a day like this(17th Jan) in 2001. That makes today her 20th anniversary- the reason why I choose to celebrate her.
To acknowledge our kinsmen gone by is to be aware that we didn’t create ourselves. They are the genealogical link to those who came before us, in a line that stretches back all the way to God.
Reminiscing about my maternal grandmother- who played a big role in my childhood- always brings fond memories alive. It’s like entering a forgotten room where all my childhood memorabilia are hung on the walls.
My cucu was a tall lithe woman with skin the color of bronze. Her legs were long and tapering, unlike the more stout legs of Murang’a women fashioned so from climbing our daunting hills. Her hair was less kinky, almost Cushitic. This is today reflected in some of my female cousins.
Anytime she would get angry, she would curse in a strange language that I would not understand.
‘Abo ita! ‘ She would say.
That foreign language, for a long time, remained a conundrum for me. Until one Christmas in 1990, we boarded a bus called Sugar Daddy and went to Ting’ang’a in Kiambu where she came from . There, I heard stories from her agemates that fascinated me.
My grandmother’s dad- Nyutu- was a full-bloodied Maasai. This is how it came to be.
In a place called Kagongo near Ting’ang’a lived a rich man called Mwenda Njeru. This nickname meant ‘lover of new things’ His real name was Nderitu and he had migrated from Nyeri. He owned all that tract of land stretching from Ndumberi through Ting’ang’a all the way to Ruiru.
Now, Mwenda Njeru used to sponsor raids among the Ngong Maasai. This was to get more cows and goats for his many young men since he was polygamous. Back then, a man’s worth was based on the size of his herds.
One day, Mwenda Njeru’s band of merry young men raided a Maasai manyatta and captured a teenage girl called Nyaimatu. The girl begged the raiders not to leave his kid brother behind. It was not the custom to carry along young tots during raids but the raiders honored Nyaimatu’s wishes. Thus the two siblings were carried off by the sons of Mwenda Njeru to Ting’ang’a.
The necessary rites to make them Kikuyu proper were conducted on them. Thus they grew in Mwenda Njeru’s compound as his adoptive children. Later, Nyaimatu got married but raised his kid brother as one of her sons.
When Nyaimatu’s brother came of age, he was initiated in 1905 in an age group called Kanyutu.His Maasai name was replaced with his age group name and he became Nyutu.
This was the man who became my grandmother’s dad.
My grandmother was brother up by his Maasai auntie- Nyaimatu- until she came of age.I was told that despite staying in Gikuyuland all these years, she had refused to learn the language and exclusively spoke Maa. It’s from her that my cucu picked her Maasai tongue. My conundrum had been solved.
My grandmother grew up in Ting’anga with his siblings Nyokabi and Nderitu. Until a man called Mwangi wa Munene- my grandfather- got employed in those coffee farms near Ruiru. He happened to be a ‘nyabara’ or supervisor so the mzungu had given him a bicycle. A bicycle was the equivalent of a V8 in the 1930s.
One day, my grandfather was on leave so he took my cucu to what is now Ruiru town to buy her bangiri(bangles) from one of those Indian dukawallas. My grandmother folded her muthuru, sat on the bicycle sideways, and of they headed to Ruiru.
However,my grandpa had other plans. Upon reaching Ruiru he did not stop. Instead,he peddled on to what is now Thika road and headed on to Murang’a.
As they crossed River Ndarugu, they fell from the bike- with grandmother losing two of her front teeth. She cursed in Maa, held her hands akimbo, and shrieked at grandpa:
‘Turn that cursed bike of yours and take me back home! Abo ita!’
‘Who will marry a girl without two mitheko teeth?’ Grandpa asked her, then peddled off.
My grandma seethed like the Maasai she was, hailed grandpa to stop then boarded the bike.Grandpa took this to be a ‘yes I do’ and now rode more carefully, now that he was carrying his wife.
When the two lovebirds crossed River Chania, the traditional boundary between Murang’a and Kiambu people,my cucu considered herself propperly married. There was no turning back.
By evening, they were in Fort Hall as Murang’a town was known then where they spent the night. The following day, they scaled the hills towards Iyego and by evening, my grandpa parked the matrimonial bike by his hut in Kanorero village.That’s how cucu got married in the late 1930s.
In her sunset days, anytime a bike would pass by, she would shake her head dreamily, then retrospectively say:
‘I nii mui ndombirwo na muithikiri.’Which loosely translates to:
I was married upon a bicycle.