CAMEL IN THE SKY

A long time ago there lived a man called Galgalo who had a humble herd of camels and goats and cows. Galgalo lived well with his neighbours and was a good husband to his two wives;Habiba and Ebla. He performed his religious duties to Allah well and was blessed with healthy children.

But Galgalo was human. Sometimes he loved his sons more than he loved his wives. Sometimes he loved his camels more than he loved his daughters. But such is the nature of men-the ebb and flow of love in man’s heart can be unpredictable like the direction of the wind.

Galgalo was good to his neighbours from his bullah or village. When their flocks died leaving them with nothing to eke out   a living from, he gave out his calves to them. When their wives had nothing to cook for their crying children, he gave a sack of bariss or rice to them. He was generous to a fault. The Somali have a saying that if people come together, they can even mend a crack in the sky. This saying was Galgalo’s constant north.

One day, Galgalo’s female camels pranced about and brayed all night. They trumpeted at his neighbor’s male camel in some amorous animal gibberish, begging for some primordial proteins. It was life begging to perpetuate itself. Galgalo, acting from ancient pastoral instinct passed from father to son, realized he had to move with speed if he wanted his herd to grow.

The following morning he went to Shukri his neighbor’s duful or hut and asked him to lend him his bull camel so that it could play with his female camels. Shukri was sitting on mat, furiously brushing is ever shiny teeth. He spat heavily to the ground and coldly told Galgalo off.Next, Galgalo went to his friend Dekow-the man who owned a thousand camels and was poised to be the next kaliph.Dekow pointed a brutal finger at him and disappeared into his big herd. Dekow was known to have a tongue that could flog a camel so Galgalo let him be and went home, bats of sorrow flying ominously above his head.

By the time he went to the fifth person in his bullah,Galgalo had realized that there was a village-wide conspiracy to deny him a bull camel. He got sad, like grief had laid actual hands on him. His heart curved inwards like a dry leaf with sorrow.

Allah, what have I done to deserve this? He cried one day.

From then on he made Masjid Noor the nearest mosque his abode. All night he prayed till his knees were sore and his eyes red.When his wives brought him pasta and aleso for his super, it went cold and ants started feasting on it.He became a thin pencil of a man with ribs sticking out like those of a cow that had survived ten droughts. His wives got worried that he wasn’t eating well owing to his praying. But there is no such thing as too much of a good thing; Galgalo kept on praying.

One evening as Galgalo lay on a mat after saying his magharib prayers, there was a celestial rustle in the air, like a great force was in motion. Galgalo went on his knees and prayed earnestly, for he could feel he was in great presence. Then, a beautiful strong bull camel dropped from the sky. Its flanks were the colour of gold, its hump glowed like a minaret. Galgalo gazed and mumbled to himself, then realized this was an encounter with the supernatural.

Galgalo marveled at the golden camel, but before he could tie it, Allah spoke to him. He asked him to take good care of it.He finally asked Galgalo never to tell anyone about the source of the camel. Galgalo solemnly swore to Allah never to do so, even at the pain of death.

After a short while his camels were pregnant and they bore very strong calves which made Galgalo proud.  The beautiful calves pranced about like little animals of heaven. When they went to drink water at the shallow wells, the herdsmen stopped their throaty water songs to marvel at them. When they went back to their pens, women fetching firewood sat on logs to admire them and wonder why their husbands didn’t have such beautiful animals. To add to their beauty, Galgalo bedecked his camels with gold and silver and precious felt rugs from Persia.

Abdi Majid the itinerant griot and the poet laureate of that region even composed some poems nad water songs  for Galgalo’s camels.

Galgalo’s ranking in the village circles where the men met went up. You see, a great man needs no introduction. But Galgalo wasn’t great man-until his camels increased tenfold and gave forth very strong calves. If he was living in 21st Century, he would be on Instagram with his camel from heaven-tagging all herders to make them feel envious and getting likes from Kismayoo to Kakuma.

Whastsapp groups by then consisted of wazees meeting by the watering hole, with theone with  biggest herd of camels being the group admin.As long as human beings admire wealth,rich men will always be elevated,and poor men disrespected.Galgalo was made the group admin owing to his new-found wealth. He started wearing imported kikois and high quality open leather shoes reserved for emirs and rich sheikhs.

The Somali has a saying: aaddane eed ma waayo .Human beings are never without a fault. The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.Most men cannot keep their mouths shut after hitting it big. By and by, Galgalo started boasting about his camels with a heavenly pedigree.

Galgalo you are such a braggart! One old man told him someday.

It’s not boasting when you can back it up, Galgalo answered back.

One day, Dekow his friend borrowed his bull to mount his female camels which were on heat.

Wewe mtu hasidi! You are a bad man!

Galgalo told him.He furiously spit a gallon with disgust.Dekow recoiled into his kikoi,for he didn’t expect such an answer from him.

Ngamia ya mbinguni hawezi zaa na ngamia hio yako ya badia.

My heavenly camel cannot sire with your bush camels.Galgalo told Dekow, waving his walking stick mortally close to his chest. It is the habit of bad men to repay unkindness with unkindness.

Despite all his vanity, Mzee Galgalo was careful not to let the secret out about the source of his camels. He had made a solemn promise to Allah never to let tell anybody about the camel that fell from the sky. He even slept far away from his wives and sons, let he talked about the camel that fell from the sky in his dreams.

He avoided speaking about it even when he was alone. He feared that the haboob-the dry wind that blew from El Adow and was strong enough to knock down a strong camel might take the secret to the four corners of the world. He avoided singing about while herding lest the leaves and the barks keep the secrets and tell them to strangers.

Nothing in the world remains hidden forever. Gold or silver which has lain hidden in the bowels of the earth reveals itself on the surface one day. Sometimes the sand turns traitor and betrays the footsteps of the camel caravan, giving out not only the size of the herd but also the direction it has taken. Water eventually brings to the surface the body that has drowned. Revelation is the law of nature-the eternal preservation of a secret by a living man is a miracle we are yet to see. Galgalo was no exception to this iron rule.

Thus one day, as Galgalo sat down with wazees in a khat chewing session, he let out the secret.In one  moment of weakness, he bragged about how he once talked with Allah. He said that Allah sent him beautiful camels direct from heaven the way one sends a parcel to a friend. He even added that he had a ticket to heaven where VVIP seat was reserved for him.

In that moment, the big beautiful bull camel that Allah gave to Galgalo took to the sky. It was followed by its off springs which were now a sizeable herd. They say the best way to cure a braggart from bragging is by surgery-the amputation of the neck. But since Allah is most merciful, He didn’t do that to Galgalo.

On a clear night, the golden camel together with its off springs can be seen up in the sky, next to the moon.

POSTSCRIPT

This story was told to me by one Mohamed Kosar one breezy evening as we  sat on a mat stargazing, in small hamlet called Diff on the Kenya-Somali border.

 

 

 

MAARA AND HIS MOTHER

Rich families are always the same;each poor family is  poor in its own way.Such was Maara and his mother who were poor in their own way. They lived in hut that epitomized poverty-it was so small and full of holes that with one turn Maara often found himself outside it. Since a man’s primary duty is not to be poor, they worked hard-but with each effort they put, the deeper they sank into want. They lived hoping for a better future, losing each day contriving for tomorrow.

Maara and his mother were a sight to behold. While other children played with balloons, Maara walked around with a balloon of hunger in his belly. His hair had been bleached dirty brown by malnutrition. His legs had been twisted into grotesque shapes by jiggers and other vermin that seeped into his body through his bare feet. Her mother was no better. She was poverty on two weak legs. But deep in their heart they had an iron resolve to live on. Like a lioness with ten hungry bellies to feed, they soldiered on against all odds.

Every morning Maara and his mother went to the shamba following each other like people from drawings in a rural sociology encyclopaedia.They tilled at their shamba-but their crops always failed and their livestock died like there was a plague that was particular to them.Everytime they came from the shamba they found Mr. Poverty already sited in their hovel, saying ‘welcome home’, hugging them like long-lost kinsmen. To them, life was a montage of catastrophes that followed each other with unfailing frequency.

One day Maara requested to join the village Poverty Anonymous Group. The group leader rejected his application;his poverty plus his mother’s was too much for the group. The group was eyeing some donor funds and they didn’t want anybody who was very poor since they would hog all the funds at their expense. The poor are the most discriminatory group-unlike the rich. But it follows that as long as money is respected, the poor will always be disrespected.

Luckily, Maara’s mother found some work at some rich man’s home. You know those obscenely opulent men who are so rich that they create squalor by hogging everything from food to land to livestock? Such was this man. But she didn’t last long in the job to earn her first salary as she got sick.

Each day she woke up with different ache, each stronger than the previous one. Her hands got thin-he eyes were rheumy and had the ugly hue of death. Since they could not afford a doctor, Maara took her to an old shaman who lived by the river, juggling some strange pebbles mumbling even more strange mumbo jumbo.

The first time the shaman asked for a cock and upper whiskers of a porcupine to cure Maara’s mother. Since Maara was a fighter, he hunted down a porcupine and got the whiskers. He took them together with the cock to the shaman but his mother never got well.

Next, the shaman asked for a fattened he-goat and the left toenails of the njimbiri the water otter that was known to feast only at night around the River Mathioya. Maara got the toenails and took their only he-goat to the shaman.This time around the mother got worse. With each visit to the shaman, his demands became more outrageous and costlier than the previous one. By the time they gave up, they had sold everything except their skins. Sometimes the sick spend more than the rich in their pursuit for health.

Finally, it became clear to Maara that his mother wasn’t going to live long.Her skin had acquired the pale colour of death-her voice got guttural like that of a spirit. Her ailment had no cure. Maara felt lonely and forgotten by the whole village, and there was no cure for that too. But indeed the whole village had forgotten about them-nobody loves misery.

Maara my son,come…

Maara’s mother called him one night. He body was here, but her voice was from the next world.

I am not afraid to die. But I am afraid to say goodbye to you eternally…

She gasped with thirst for life. Maara dashed to the kitchen to fetch water for her. Then, at that particular moment when Maara was not looking, Gods big fingers closed her eyes and she slept eternally. It was around 3 a.m. in the morning,the time when kiania utuku the dreaded night demon haunted the night.

Maara didn’t cry;there was no one to wipe his tears. All his life, he had worn grief like an old sad shawl. He had cried all his lifetime tears leaving no tears for big grieves like his mother’s death. He just sat there, more worried about himself and how he was going to cope without his mother.

There comes a time in a poor man’s life when he realizes that virtue is difficult or even impossible due to want. There comes a time when man risks all knowing that he has nothing to lose since he didn’t have anything in the first place. This was such a time for Maara. He had to choose between principles and survival.

Maara though fast-this was his last chance. He bound his mother’s body with her only clothes. He did his last prayers for her and wished her well in the land of ngomi or spirits where the soul of man never dies. Then, like someone possessed, he placed her body by the road which led to the iriuko or the communal watering hole by the river.  He also placed the calabash she used to get water from the river by her body.He made sure that her mother’s body was on the route the livestock of the rich men from the village used to go to the watering hole.

When the village woke up, they found Maara’s mothers body trampled by the rich men’s’ ox beyond recognition. Sadness fell over the village like blanket. The village crier dusted his greater kudu horn and blew it with urgency, calling kiama or council of elders for an urgent meeting by the giant muiri tree near the gurgling stream.

When the sun got cooler, the council held court, each man of means sitting on his njung’wa or three-legged stool. Each man spoke with wisdom, spicing his talk with parables before finally hammering the point home with his muthigi or ceremonial staff reserved for senior elders. After the  half day meeting, the leader of the men, a man who was said to have survived four famines, ten Maasai raids and  witnessed  three ituikas stood up to speak.

We all have committed a crime. He spoke with authority and firmness.

We have let Waceke die, yet we could help. But we are not here to ask who is guilty of the crime. We are here to correct our communal mistake and see to it that this will not be repeated.

The men nodded at the depth of his words.

A man cannot enjoy his meal in peace while he can hear his neighbour’s stomach rumble with hunger.

He added, emphasizing the point with his ebony staff gone oily with age.

It is decreed that every man shall give a goat for every ten goats and a cow for every ten cows he owns to Maara. He said with finality.

Thaai thathaiya  Ngai  thaaaaai!  The thousand strong elders answered back.The deal had been sealed.

With that, some young men were instructed to take the body of Maara’s mother to the evil forest lest it made the village unclean. They then later went to each home,collecting Maara’s due share of animals from each man’s flock.Maara got his share of wealth from each man and lived to be a wealthy man respected by all.

Upto date, among the Gikuyu people, 3 a.m. is called riria Maara ateire nyina.The hour that Maara woke up to dispose his mother’s body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOUSEFLY STEW

Boys will always be boys-biting more from life than they can chew. In their journey towards manhood, they dare the gods and test their parents. Give a boy enough time to wander and surely he will wander; boys are born with innate longing for adventure without obligation.

Once upon a time when dawns were young, one such  boy wandered and went to visit his maternal uncle in some far of land. He was a young chap with knobkerries for knees and fans for ears. But he was a lovable one-the type that makes one want to give them a whole year supply of toys. He forded through raging rivers and went through forests teeming with animals red in tooth and claw. He stoically braved the brazing sun overhead and stinging briars at his feet. When his hunger pangs started drumming loudly in his belly like tom toms he sighted some smoke wafting from a woody grove. He was hungrier than ten donkeys but with renewed strength he rushed down the last hill for he knew he was almost there.

The boy was received well by his kin who hadn’t seen him for quite a while. As he chatted with his cousins, the lady of the house busied herself with preparing a meal for the guest. After a short while, the cloying aroma of a delicious meal wafted into the githaku-the traditional sitting bay where the boys were playing. The boy’s taste buds went into a riot-boys are almost always hungry.

Finally, the lady of the house set a meal of mukimo and housefly stew for the guest. Black slimy things that were flying  in some toilet some minutes ago were now floating on some fat and onions, ready to be eaten.Ok,by then houseflies hadn’t attained that ugly Latin taxonomy name musca domestica but they were still hideous. The boy was taken aback by this culinary serving, but since his stomach rumblings could be heard a mile away, he decided to take a small bite just to silence them. By and by, he was done with the mould of mukimo and housefly stew. Boys will always do the undoable-they can fall into a pit latrine and come out smelling or roses. He never had as much as stomach ache since boys are always led by some benevolent celestial assistants we call angels.

As the lady of the house picked her utensils, she gave the boy an evil glint with her red eyes. Her eyes were always red-they had enough blood in them that she could sell by the pint. The boy’s uncle showed him a place to sleep and pretty fast, he was in slumberland, dreaming those boyhood dreams full of big ripe mangoes and girls with even riper chests. He was sleeping with belly up since that was the only tenable sleeping position.

So what are you going to tell my in-laws about your stay here?  The boy’s uncle asked him one morning after he had stayed for there several days.

I am going to tell them that I was received very well and fed on housefly stew. The boy answered back.

His uncle got perplexed. He scratched his bushy beard that looked like thatch, his big Adam’s apple moving up and down like an animal trapped there. He got sad, like grief had laid actual hands on him.

Did you hear what the boy has said?

He asked his wife who sat across him, looking regal and resigned like an abdicated monarch. She didn’t answer back. Cuckolds always get such treatment from their wives. Which sometimes they deserve.

The following day the boy’s uncle slaughtered his prized cock for the boy. He asked his wife to make a dish fit for a muthamaki for the boy. The wife did make a good meal-though the chapatis were thin enough to read a newspaper through. The young fellow ate heartily and licked his fingers till they almost came out and burped loudly to tell the host that the meal was hearty. His uncle went to sleep a happy man.

What are you going to tell my in-laws about your stay here? He asked the boy the following morning.

I will tell them that I was received well, served with a meal of housefly stew and then a cock was slaughtered for me. The boy said without batting an eyelid.

Did you hear what the boy said?

The boy’s uncle asked his wife. Once again she didn’t answer back but sat there pursing her thick lips since rolling of eyes wasn’t in vogue then. The uncle was one of those men whose wives had sat on his chapatis before serving him. This was said to make even the wildest man a cuckold who tugged at his wives apron strings like a little boy. Later,the uncle slaughtered one of his prized bulls for the boy, but his answer didn’t change.

Every community has its hallowed animals that are reserved for the gods. Sacrificial animals which cannot be eaten by mortals even under the pain of death. The boy’s uncle had such an animal-and this was his last card up is sleave.It was an abominable thing to do. But again, it was an even more abominable thing to have one’s nephew reporting to ones in-laws that he was fed with a meal of housefly stew. All at the behest of a domineering wife. He had to kill his nephew with kindness to erase housefly stew from his mouth and mind.

The following day, the uncle hired the woman with the best culinary skills in the village. He couldn’t trust his wife any more. Some girls with the best gaps between their teeth and voices like kanyoni-ka-nja the nightingale were also hired to serenade the boys as he ate. You see, the way to any man’s heart is through the mouth and his eyes. You give a boy a feast for his mouth and his eyes and he is in heaven.

The ngoima or fattened sacrificial ram was slaughtered for the boy the following morning. The neighbors watched by the fence at this mad man who dared slaughter  a ram meant for the gods for a young boy who didnt even know the difference between a girls breast and mangoes.The things that men do to correct the mistakes of their women are sometimes hard to fathom.

Soon afer,the boy was served with the delicious meal fit for the gods. The village belles belted some forgotten serenade songs for him-mentioning him two times in every stanza. The boy ate like an army on the march, all the while eyeing the nubile girls’ titties going up and down like lost mangoes as they danced for him. You see, boys dream of strippers while men dream of a woman waiting for them at home. When he was done, he burped loudly-an indication that he had his fill. His uncle was sure that his trick had worked.

The following day, the uncle prepared the boy to leave since his wife wouldnt do it.He packed for him the fruits that were in season then. He also gave him a big cock to take home. Finally, he was given rukuri-those delicious crunchy meat pies that were preserved in honey for him to snack on in his journey home.

At the gate, the boy’s uncle confidently straightened himself, thrust his chest forward, cleared his throat and in a fatherly tone asked the boy:

What are you going to tell your parents about your stay with your good uncle?

With the pimpled insolence of a 14 year old the boy answered back:

I am going to tell them that I was served with a housefly stew, a cock was slaughtered for me, then a bull and finally a fat ram.

Uta-do?

The boy then left for home.

Bats of sorrow forlornly flew over the boy’s uncles head, threatening to build a nest there. In the kitchen the lady of the house chuckled as she did a triumphant mugithi jig.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KISUM

Every town has two names.There is the name that appears in Geography books and maps. Then there is the name by which the locals call their town. Thus the windswept town called Isiolo becomes ‘Siolo’ to locals. The ‘I’ is silent. Wajir is Wajeer. Nanyuki becomes Nanyukii to the locals. Kisumu is Kisum.

You know why locals pronounce the names correctly? Because they own the places. A town’s name may be Anglicized or altered by other tongues but its owners stick to its real name. One of the towns whose owners claim vehemently is Kisumu.

You see, its easy to claim Kisumu. For one, unlike Nairobi, Kisumu is not seething with angry masses-people that seem to be running away from something or everything. Kisumu is made up of people who are at home with themselves. Two, the town is guided by a lord mayor called order unlike Nairobi which is lorded over by some unseen mayor called chaos. Nairobi is too chaotic, like a hospice for the moribund. When chaos gets tired of tormenting the world, they hide in Nairobi. I always wonder how that metro survives with no riots breaking out every day.

Every town has a persona that it presents to the traveller.Machakos is an over bleached slay queen in yellow dress trying to catch up with her big sister Nairobi.Nyeri is an old geezer who drives a 1978 Chevrolet pickup. Kisumu is a debonair gentlemen in three piece suit smoking a cigar, taking single malt whiskey, using words like ‘propestrous’ in his speech. You have to like the way sons of lake the take whiskey with religious piety, like its holy communion.

Coming from a place with no large water body, I love going down to Lake Victoria just to watch the lake anytime I am in Kisumu. I love Lake Victoria’s expanse-actually I feel it should be upgraded to a sea.  Or an inland ocean. The little lake ones love is ones biggest ocean. If Dead Sea, which does even support life, is ranked is a sea, then Lake Victoria should be upgraded to a sea too. For the love of Kisumu, we should start a petition to the UN for that upgrade. This would be a good reward to the lake which is always calm, unlike other water bodies which are always moody.

The other day that I found myself in Kisumu I was impressed by the town’s neatness. The town has fully recovered from the elections chaos that rocked the town last year.  Kisumu is one town where I have a free tour guide called Ogallo.Now, Ogallo and I did Literature and Linguistics together in campus. This man Ogallo is a man of letters. He speaks his English with pleasant flow of liquid words, the plosives gliding smoothly over the fricatives, the bilabials dancing gracefully over the alveolars.So much for Linguistics though.

When Ogallo is happy, epithets fall from his mouth. When he is angry, he hurls words around like spears. I always tell him that if he were to insult somebody, his insults could raise blisters on a sensitive skin because they would be so forcefull.But he hardly does that because he is such a refined man.When Ogallo is around me, he speaks in iambic pentameter, like Shakespeare, because he and I are poetry buffs.

Jarabuon, what brings thee to this lacustrine borough?

He asked me as he picked me from the bus stage.Jarabuon means ‘potato people’ his nickname for us from Central Kenya who take every meal, fish included, with Irish potatoes. Lacustrine means ‘having to do with the lake.’ As for borough, you check out the meaning. I am doing too much explaining.

Same old thirst for wisdom. I told him. I had gone to see a certain Professor at Maseno University.

One of the things that irk Ogallo is that I cannot eat fish. His efforts to enlist me into the cult of fish lovers have always failed. So he took me to the Imperial Hotel on Achieng Oneko Road where they serve good fish.

I hear you mountain people boil fish in lots of water then add warus to it.He tells me.

Treat that as a myth, like that of Nyamgondho. I retort back.

We laugh in between the meal. Then we wander off to the myth of Nyamgondho which Ogallo always narrates with gusto, rendering it afresh each time he does so.

Nyamgondho, son of Ombare was a  was poor chap who lived in  Kamuela village in the 14th century .He eked a living by fishing and hawking at Kondele market .When he made enough money he would visit local gin dens then later attend open air ohangala dances.

One day, as Nyamgondho was fishing, he pulled out an ugly one eyed woman from the lake. Nyamgondho wanted to throw her back to the lake, but the ugly woman begged him to keep her and marry her. Being a bachelor who girls avoided owing to his poverty, the idea of having a woman to sweep his simba was welcome To Nyamgondho. Thus he took Nyar Nam-daughter of the lake-home and made her his wife.

Soon, the two settled down and got a lot of wealth.  Nyamgondho named the woman Adikinyi and she bore him many children.Nyamgodho got several other wives and many children. He stopped taking illicit Nubian gin and graduated to single malt millet beer. He started smoking with gold tipped pipes, his tobacco imported all the way from the land of the Ankole. Gradually, Nyamgondho forgot about his humble beginnings and became very proud.

One Saturday evening, Nyamgondho came home drunk and cursing like a Sio Port sailor. His wives refused to open the door for him. Nyamgondho got angry and abused Adikinyi, calling her an ugly old woman. The following morning, Adikinyi headed to the lake, and all of Nyamgondho’s wealth followed her. If you go to Nyamgondho site by the lake, you can see Adikinyis foot prints and the ones left by the livestock as they headed for the lake.

The following day found us at Nyamgondho site which can be accessed by murram road from the lake shore town of Sindo.The site offers a panoramic view of Lake Victoria. Boats lay motionless in the glassy lake, their sails fluttering in the wind like girls silk petticoats. Then a brief zephyr blows from the East, filling the lakes surface with a thousand dimples.

The lake is a woman, a temptress. Ogallo tells me.

The reason why we sons of the lake are romantic is because we learn it from the lake.

He goes on in an enchanted monologue. I keep quiet and stare pensively to indicate to him that what he has said is deep.We sit by the shore watching the liquid soliloquy of the lake, listening to the lake breathing. The waves break on the shores back and forth, like the eternal ebb and flow of human misery. As the sun sets Ogallo hums some lines from the poem Dover Beach. The waves-

 

                Begin and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring,

The eternal note of sadness in.

 

After the Nyamgondho site tour we come back to town where I am to meet my Professor. At any given weekend, Kisumu has the highest concentration of Professors per square mile.

Now, my Professor is one of those unassuming scholars who did His Masters in Leeds, PhD in Cambridge and wears Oxford loafers and always dons a tie with an Oxford knot. When my Professor speaks, scholarship seeps from his mouth.

Great to see you osiepna. He tells me.We are at Kisumu Hotel that is opposite Maseno University Town Campus. After the usual chit chat, I tell him that I have to go out and look for good food.

What is good food?

I want some mukimo and minji.

What is minji? I explain to him what minji looks like.

Oh,you mean Pisum Sativum of the Fabacaea Family! Exclaims Professor in one eureka moment.

There is a Kikuyu lady who does them at Kondele.

So we continue with our chat with the Professor. Men with the rhythm of rhumba in their hips are dancing to some slow music. When Luos do the rhumba, they make it an art.The men have feet that are articulate as poetry, the ladies got hips that sway with coordinated geometry. But wait till hypnotic Ohangla hits the air and everybody dances with the lascivious grace of tango.

Kisumu Hotel is a cozy place with some aristocratic look. The drinks are pricey for a student like me so is their accommodation. I can’t wait to be done with Professor and go out to look for an affordable place plus my beloved mountain food.

Finally, my Prof is about to go. He calls the Hotels Manager and tells him that I am his guest.

This scholar is displaying somnolence .Get him a tranquil place for him to repose his tired torso.

That’s how I spent my night in the marvelous Kisumu Hotel despite its cost.

 

 

WAJIR BY MIRAA PLANE

It’s lazy Saturday morning. Two bicycle mechanics are sitting on a bench at their base, waiting for customers, watching their youth pass by without saying hi. One is squinting at his kabambe held together by an oily rubber band. He reads a message from his girlfriend who is 1000km away. The other chap who is his brother is chewing on a matchstick, wishing he was chewing muguka. An estate lad comes to have his bike’s puncture repaired. When the two brothers get paid, they buy a kanuthu of Safari Cane and bunch of muguka .All at Ksh 200.

After they have chewed enough muguka, the younger brother says that he misses his girlfriend  who is 1000km away. You know how muguka gives people outlandish ideas? His brother tells him that they can convert the scrap metals and steel bars in their yard into a flying bicycle so that they can visit the girlfriend the following day.

The two fellows then welded the scrap metals from their garage together and came up with an ugly juggernaut. Then they went to a cliff where it was let off. The younger brother was the first to go off. Some hormonal soups were hissing angrily in his hips looking for an outlet so he took the risk. Men who achieve great things are not motivated by their love for humanity. They are basically motivated by some primordial desires like Oedipal urge to be in some girl’s bosom, to suck deeply from Mother Nature’s wells.Anywhow, that’s how the first flight took place in some windy town in Ohio, U.S.A, in 1903.The flying bicycle invented by two brothers high on a crude spirit later came to be known as the aeroplane.Ok,I made up the crude spirit part just to spice things up.

Thus the first chap to fly-the one who was missing his girl-was Orville Wright. His brother was Wilbur Wright. Orville Wright never reached his girl since his flight lasted only twelve seconds and he carried the entire humanities fear of flight in his heart but all in all, he tried. I am sure his girlfriend left him since ladies don’t like a man who lasts only twelve seconds but that’s a story for another day.

You can now see the reason I don’t like flying. I don’t trust those things that defy gravity. The plane was invented by two brothers whose main motivation was not to connect the world but to visit some swooning girlfriend.Heck!The two jokers were not even engineers but some school drop-outs from Ohio who ran bicycle repair shed that was rarely open since they patronizedcheap spirits joints when they got money. The fellows weren’t even schooled. Orville had gone up to grade 4 and was chased out of school for stealing steel rods. His brother had repeated grade 5 so many times until he gave up. Such are the fellows who discovered the airplane.

But there are times when one has to take a flight. Like when you take a punishing 12 hour journey to Wajir by bus, you just don’t want to go by road again. Your back is drained of all sinokio fluid, making it creak loudly like you were classmates with Methuselah.

Wajir airplanes operate by their own rules. But anyway, Waria businesses operate by their own rules. They are guided by informality and haste. Warias break down unnecessary red tape leaving only the basic structures needed for business to operate. Warias will do a half a billion contract with zero paperwork. When you work in places like Wajir, you become a part of this delightful informality.

Take for example some years ago when I worked in an office that faced the flight path to Wajir Airport. Such that I could see planes landing from Kismayu, Mogadishu and Hargeisa for stopover before proceeding to Nairobi. We would wait until the plane lands, close the office, go shower and then rush to the agent. The agent was an amiable fellow called Shukri who would give us ticket on credit. Most of the times he would be lazing on a mat behind his office taking hot tea in the hot sun, chatting animatedly with his friends. I would go holding 3K knowing too well that the ticket was 5K.

Hakuna shinda,wewe atalipa tu. No problem, you will pay later.

He would tell me even before I had given him a sob story about how my salary had delayed and I had to go home. He would promptly issue a receipt and go back to his tea and friends.

Salamia bibi na watoto ukifika Kenya. He would sign us off. These places do not consider themselves Kenya. Then we would take boda boda to the airport just in time for the 50 min flight to Nairobi.

The thing about business is that when you trust people, they don’t break that trust. They pay up. We would pay Shukri the soonest we got money, only to go and borrow a flight home again. Such are the joys that come with these small towns.

Unfortunately, the airline that Shukri acted as the agent for left the route. We were left at the mercy of rickety miraa planes or commercial flights which were quite expensive. Commercial flights also come with their own red tape about online booking that we weren’t used to.So we opted for the miraa planes.

You may have flown the Dreamliner to Pluto and back, but you haven’t flown until you have done it in  a miraa plane. Those tiny things that leave Wilson Airport for some windswept Somali cities at dawn. By 8 am they are on their way back to Nairobi, but have to make a stopover at Wajir airport. My first flight with such was an out of this world experience.

One, the thing was too claustrophobic for comfort. It only had four seats since it’s a cargo plane and they remove the seats to create space for the miraa.As we boarded the plane, we were only five of us. When it was about to take off, a Land cruiser came running in the airstrip, waving us to stop. A family of three was ushered in-an elderly woman with her two daughters. She looked sickly so we had to vacate the seats for them and sit on the empty miraa sacks on the floor.

When the thing took off, I came so close to hell that I could hear the cackling of hell fire in the hereafter. The tiny thing did a somersault, two cartwheels, twerked its ass like a slay queen dancing in an X-rated music video before it got stable after achieving cruising altitude. Which was not much of an altitude since I could see goats chewing curds in the plains of Habaswein.

They say that planes take off against the wind. Methinks these small planes should be excused from that rule. The panting that the plane did is enough justification for that. Alternatively they can see a Grogon mechanic who can fit a small turbo propeller or a loud Subaru Forester engine to add some oomph to those small thingies.

But the take-of scare was nothing compared to when we came to that Ngong Hills circuit. The colonial aviation engineer who designed that airplane route that dictates airplanes have to go all the way to Ngong Hills before landing was high on something illicit. Then, the thing was flying so low that the aroma of nyama choma wafted from Ngong below us. It was a particularly bad day for flying and the sky was heavy with fog like unshed tears.

We rolled from one corner of the floor to the other, like potatoes in an old lorry from Kinangop.Then the small plane hit this huge turbulence. We felt like beans in a can soaring through the air on a downward turn of a parabolic arc. My friend rummaged the miraa sacks for some miraa to keep from puking. Am sure in that plane, we didn’t have a pagan at that particular moment. I promised Lord that I will offer burnt sacrifices to Him if we landed safely-something I am yet to do.

Clouds may look all fluffy and alluring from down here-until you are up there flying in an old miraa plane and you hit one. You see, clouds are the souls of the rivers. Rivers that have been reborn in the sea, only to fall back as rain and become rivers again then rush to the sea. But the reason clouds are so menacing is that they contain tears. Tears of heartbreaks and unfilled dreams and such.

The small thing’s air brakes hissed and moaned like angry dragons before it hit the runway in JKIA.The crew had told us that we were landing at the less bothersome Wilson airport. Now, the cargo section of JKIA is miles away from clearance. Before they came to pick us up, a bus that had left Wajir was on its halfway to Nairobi.
They say flying is like throwing your soul into the heavens and racing to catch it as it falls. When you fly a miraa plane, you are not even sure you will catch it.Its the closest you can come to playing the Russian roulette.

Flying may have some macho erotic terms like ‘Set Thrust’ and ‘Ad Cock’  to make it look cool.They dont fool me-its not my thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAJIR BY BUS

I always had this hunch that fate would one day nudge me and send me to a place I didn’t like. One day it did that and told me that I had to go to Wajir. So I woke up and told my people I love you but I have to go. It’s only by going that I can come back-and see you with different eyes. Then I travelled to Wajir ,stayed a little bit and respected the place. You see, places are like people-quite complex and thus hard to love. Northern Kenya is vast and thus even harder to love. You can’t love that place without overwhelming the heart.

Those that have never ventured outside Central Kenya are always the first to warn you against going to Northern Kenya. It’s the same in life-those that have never ventured on a journey are always the ones vehemently warning you against undertaking it.One morning, with the resolute determination of a lioness with ten mouths  to feed, I packed my things and left –for Wajir.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The grueling 700km 12 hour bus journey to Wajir begins with a good meal. It happens that all the Northern Kenya bound buses are based in Eastleigh-that delightfully chaotic suburb of Nairobi. You can’t sit in an Eastleigh hotel without bumping into a retired Kismayu pirate who came to launder his money here.But they don’t curse or drunkenly sing ‘fifteen men on a dead man’s chest and a bottle of rum’. They are gentle pirates who smile genuinely as they tell you ‘waria hii ni genuine kutoka Turkey’. Eastleigh is also never short of majestic men with beards dyed the colour of Royco thumbing prayer beads-as they swing their bakoras with majestic grandeur. Real men.

The bus conductor is a lanky fellow who keeps brushing his shiny teeth with a bush toothbrush. Karibu mageni.He tells me cheerfully as he ushers me into the bus. It’s only in Eastleigh that you are ushered into a bus that way.

Tutafika lini? I ask him.

Kesho inshallah. He answers back.

What he is implying is that the journey to Wajir is a 12 hour ordeal that needs Allah for guidance. I settle in my seat in the scented bus and watch Eastleigh chaos ebb like a sea getting calm for the night. A young man who seemingly has never gone to Wajir is saying kwaheri to his young family. His young wife and their two kids hug the man so tight-you could think he is going to Pluto. Goodbyes are  such sweet sorrows;there is no good in goodbye.

My seatmate is a Mzee called Galgalo who speaks two Swahili words, ten Somali words aided with wild gesticulations and assumes that I get what he is saying. But we get along well-he is such a jovial soul despite the language barrier. Galgalo hangs his bakora in the seat in front of him, spreads his miraa in his laps and starts chewing noisily. I take out an old black book-Langston Hughes Complete Poetry Anthology-and get engrossed in the Harlem Poetry therein. At Pangani he offers me some miraa twigs which I refuse politely. At Thika Mzee Galgalo turns to me and says:

Wewe Kukuyu,sio?

Ndio abo. Abo is Somali for father.

Kukuyu mazuri sana-watu ya biashara kama waria.

Kweli yake.

And so we have our little chit-chat with Mzee Galgalo in broken Swahili mixed with Somali. Rules of language dictate that when you are talking with someone who doesn’t understand a language well, you downsize yours. They don’t teach that in school.

We are now at Kithyoko .Mzee Galgalo commands the conductor to stop the bus so that he can restock on muguka. You got to respect  a man who commanders a whole bus to stop so that he can feed his cravings.When he comes back he hands me a soda and apologizes genuinely.

Bole sana-mimi naona nasumbua wewe.

Hujasubua mimi.

Lakini mimi naona wewe ni mtu wa dini kabisa! He says.

Kwa nini?  I ask him.

Kila wakati mimi naona wewe nasoma Biblia.

Do I tell him that I am reading one of Langston Hughes erotic poems?

We get to Matuu and its magharib prayer time. The conductor whose mouth is green with muguka shouts salah! The bus is parked by the roadside. These buses have unwritten rules-the men go to one side while the ladies go to the other side. The men perform their ablutions, remove their shoes and face Mecca for their prayers. At such times it’s possible to feel out-of-place when people are praying and you are there sitting in the bus waiting for Sunday so that you can go to church and pray. But again, to each his own. If you don’t know who you are, or what deity you worship, you will always feel out-of-place all time.

We get to Mwingi. Women wave at us from the roadside with mangoes, oranges and zeituni (guavas).If you have never eaten Mwingi guavas, then you are yet to taste life. Two women approach my seat with basket of fruits. Before I can protest that I don’t have money, a fat lady has already tossed an equally fat guava my way and asked me ‘Baba,oja hio usikie utamu wake’. Man! Where else does one get to be told such apart from Ukambani? I buy two kilos of guavas which is more than I can munch. That woman has PhD in marketing.

The conductor has announced a 20 minute super break. The driver and his squad-those noisy fellows who sit atop the engine cabin-restock on fresh miraa .Northern buses are propelled by diesel and miraa .To pass an interview as a driver of one of these buses, one is assesed by the number of kilos of miraa one can chew in a day.

After snacking we board the bus and it starts flying –the dose of miraa the driver took at Mwingi is unadulterated and KEBS certified. A lady who took too many roadside samosas starts to puke through the window. A man who took too much drink is at the door holding the conductor by his neck-commanding him to stop the bus or he does it right there.The bus stops and almost everybody alights. Once again, men go to the right, women to the left. The whole world becomes a urinal.

Up there in the heavens, there is a full moon blazing on us like a golden lozenge. A lovely zephyr caresses my skin-Ukambani always has this sultry weather. In a short while we come to Ukasi-the town that marks the end of Ukambani as we head to Garissa.I offer Mzee Galgalo the guavas. He squints at them and selects the smallest ones. Thus I ask him why he is opting for the small ones.

We bado jua,kitu ndogo ndio tamu. The smaller it is, the sweeter it is.

With a mischievous glint in his eyes,Mzee Galgalo elaborates  that camel meat is good, but goat meat is better, chicken is even better than the rest. The smaller the better. A bus journey is a life lesson.

He then gets fidgety then disappears into the dark aisle.Shortly he comes back with  groundnuts in his hands. He tells me that he had gone to borrow groundnuts from people seated in seat number 55 and we are in seat 13.

Kwa nini huwezi omba kwa huyo jirani wako hapo? I ask him.

Huyu habana mtu ya mlango yangu! He is not from my sub-clan. You see, a Somali man will travel a mile to borrow single grain of njugu from his clansmen. He then offers me njugu which I select the big ones.

Wewe bado elewa,ikiwa kubwa utamu kidogo.Hata kwa maisha iko namna hio!

He reminds me of his previous lesson with a naughty wink. We laugh until he disappears to the back again to chat with watu ya mlango yake.We reach a place called Abakore where the road branches of from the city of thorns they call Dadaab and heads towards Habaswein-the town of many winds.Ikiwa ndogo,utamu mingi .Mzee Galgalo whispers into my ears. Then he alights out of the bus, swinging his bakora back and forth as he becomes one with the night.

A man with four goats stops the bus. The bleating goats are ushered into the bus undercarriage. The man enters the bus with his son, a young chap of about ten. The young chap holds a white kid goat in his lap throughout the journey. Later, four lanky young men board the bus. Their kikos can hardly hide the Somali hunting knives in their hips. They are turbaned –they look like knight Templars headed for some secret nocturnal crusade in some forgotten hamlet.

Since the bus is full, they agree to ride at the top. So they go up there, arrange their miraa in the bus top carrier and start chewing under the soft moonlight .Then they start complaining that the bus is going too fast and they can’t eat their miraa in peace.The bus conductor tells them to buy  a bus of their own for chewing miraa in.

Everything is now silent apart from the chug-chug-chug of the bus wheels and the chomp-chomp-chomp of the miraa chewers. How the driver navigates the night with no Google maps beats sense. One mad turn into a road less travelled and you find yourself headed to Kismayu which is nearer to Wajir than Nairobi. The driver at times gets lost but he does so in the right direction. A bus journey is a metaphor for life: sometimes we get lost in the right direction. Other times in the wrong direction never, to recover again.

We are now at Habaswein-the place with a buxom lady called Raha who cooks killer chapos and goat meat. Habaswein is not in any map; true places never are. Just like that place you had your first kiss. Or that screechy bed you lost your innocence: a glorious experience that you have always longed to relive. We all have such a place that we want to go back to only that when you finally get there, we realize it’s our youth that we have been missing. But I digress.

The Somali have a breakfast called KK that incorporates chapatis, vegetables, goat soup and a few pieces of goat meat. You eat this for two weeks and your forehead shines like an oil Sheikh’s. In Raha’s kitchen, the recipe for KK includes a helping of spoonful of sugar. It’s only in Northern Kenya that sugar is added to food including ugali.This is no different from Kikuyus adding water to fish. All communities got their gastronomical goofs.

It’s now morning and the sun is rising beautifully from Kismayu-the desert has rough a beauty of its own. You see, there are places you go to and love. Others you go to and hate. But when you go to Wajir, you respect the place, the people’s resilience and their sense of pride. People who walk with heads held high and speak in loud voices and eat noisily since they haven’t been silenced by silly city etiquettes that demand we cannot eat by hands or slurp tea lovingly. A free people who set their own standards of etiquette.

We have now travelled for so long that I think that since the world is round, we might be at the same place we started. We come to the barrier they erect just before you enter Wajir. An AP officer is sleeping on mat under a tree-his Kalashnikov acting as his pillow .The bus conductor gets out and kicks barrier out-of-the-way.

Thirteen hours later the bus in which we have been travelling in like beings in space ship hurtling to some celestial reckoning arrives in Wajir. Kids are rushing to school and shepherds are taking their flocks to the pastures. Market women are spreading water melons and greens by the roadside. We are tired but not worn out. This is what Vasco da Gama must have felt after rounding the Cape and landing at Malindi. But we aren’t the same way we started -our lessons come from the journey not the destination. We may have been made weak by time and fate, but still we are strong-

-to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

Wajir feels exotic. It’s only in Northern Kenya that you travel to set foot in your country for the first time. Travelling within other parts of Kenya is a trip, but travelling to Wajir is an odyssey. Why? It is said that every 100 feet the world changes. The changes in 700km we have travelled are thus enormous.

The Muslims say bismillahi and alight from the bus. The Christians do the sign of the cross and disappear into the streets of Wajir.

The odyssey is finally over;another has just began.

KIMENDE

There are no better times to travel than when one is a bachelor. You can take breakfast of roasted yams in Nkubu,lunch at Gwa Kibira chicken joint in Kutus and take supper of waru and carrots in the one goat township of Kanyenyaini.All without a pesky wife asking ‘uko wapi?’ every two minutes. Bachelorhood without travel is a wasted one. When I was a bachelor, I drifted from one town to the next, like a child’s lost balloon, inhaling the fragrances of small towns, drinking life to the dregs. When I was too broke, which was often, I read books which took me places where my meagre pay couldn’t.

You see, there is no book like travel. Travel widens horizons and opens up fountains of knowledge. Failing to travel is like living in a corner of a room, like a toad, in a house full of a thousand rooms.

Fate has a mind of its own. When it noticed that I was always travelling solo and enjoying the buffets of travel alone, it sent me a person to enjoy travel with. That’s how one fair lady waltzed into my life like a prima donna. As young girls tend to be, she was dreamy-eyed and had this outlandish ideas about travel.

 My favorite place is Seychelles;will you ever take me there? She asked me one day.

My favourite place is in your arms, I answered her back. My pockets may have been empty then but my brain wasn’t.

Which is the most beautiful place you ever visited? She asked me another day. I knew this was a trap-if I mentioned some exotic place, she would ask me to take her there.

Your mind. I told her. This was an honest answer.

My fair lady wanted to go to exotic places with dancing lights and endless sunsets. But trust me-there is no creative person than a bachelor with a fair lady to please.  If the place she wanted to go to had a movie set in there, I would buy that movie which  would teleport her there and quench her wanderlust. You see nothing that romanticizes a place better than a movie. When she wanted to go to Bahamas, I got her Casino Royale which was big then and has scenes from Bahamas. When she said she longed to feel the sand pebbles of Waikiki with her feet, I bought her Raiders of the Lost Ark which is set in Hawaii. When she said she wanted to go to a place which they had not yet shot a movie in, I wrote poems that took her there.

Then one morning, around that time we were having that silly  bananas and oranges referendum on the new Constitution, I told her I will take her to Kimende.

Where is that Kimende whareva? She asked.

Some place with rarified airs where plums fall from the sky all day.I quipped.

What’s in Kimende?  She asked with a shrug of her shoulders since by then rolling of eyes hadn’t gained currency among girls like it has now.

I want to take you to places people don’t go to and thus see things people don’t see.

So? She asked. I had to work harder. Dating a fair lady is no joke. They come with attitude the size of Mt.Kenya.

We can watch the Great Rift Valley turn golden at sunset at the Viewpoint.

Arafu?  When a lady asks you this, she is telling you are dumb and need to up your game. I did.

Arafu we cherish the music of the wind because musical notes blow in the air there like some golden dust.

She smiled. I was headed somewhere.

Wi na ma? (Oh really?)

God one. I swore, knowing too well I was lying.

Ok, take me there and promise we won’t stay. Game shot.

The following day I called my old pal Mwaura who lived in Naivasha and told him we meet up at Kimende the following Saturday. We had suffered under the same bell together in high school. We had shared the same room in campus and hadn’t met for 4 years after clearing campus. So the trip was more about us catching up and seeing how life was treating us and less about the fair lady drapped in my arms. It was also to get endorsement from a friend about her. But she didn’t know all these-all she knew was that we were going to a magical place where musical notes hung in the air like golden dust.

Kimende was one drab place then. Not that it has changed much. The only thing that differentiated a day from the next was the alternation of the mist.  There were folks sitting beside jikos eating waru snacks and folks selling leeks and carrots and potatoes by the bucket There were folks squinting  from quaint shops looking up the Nairobi Nakuru highway as if they were waiting for something big to happen which didn’t happen but which still they hoped will happen.Those folks are still there.Thats the thing about small towns.

How can one love such a cold windy place? Asked my fair lady when we landed in the cold town.

My fair lady, like Queen Getrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, did complain too much. She came from the plains where it was warm and flat. She expected Kimende to be some warm flat place too. We all carry a piece of where we come from to where we go.

If one can love this place, you can love anyone. I told her.

Travel teaches you about love. I pushed on. Shoulders shrug.

You see, there is someone who cannot leave this place because his heart is forever held by it, I waxed philosophical.

Why? The fair lady asked me.

Because they got fond memories buried in here.The place is the mecca of their childhood.

So we had our meeting with Mwaura in this quaint pub that looked like it had its last customer before the fall of Berlin Wall. Soon we were chatting happily about life like the long-lost buddies we were. Pubs are like churches-folks tend to unburden themselves and bare their souls. And if they offer accommodation people bare their bodies too but that’s not what brought us there that day.

I could imagine how humdrum life in Kimende can be-days hanging on to each other and joined to the next by some frosty cold. To compensate for the cold, the locals are warm and full of time old-time camaraderie. The shopkeepers smile to customers and give them avocados when they cannot get coins to return change. Or plums.

Why are these people giving us avocados? My fair lady asked me.

They are symbols of fertility. Wink. When she got the joke she giggled then shrugged her shoulders.

We had a long chat with Mwaura as the butcher – a cheery fellow called Mbugua-prepared some tumbukiza for us to ward of the cold. We reminisced about our days at Njiiri School and KU.Of course embellishing some parts. We talked about our campus days omitting the more scandalous parts. Campus life was one continous scandal.Then Mbugua served us with a big mountain of meat with an even bigger mountain of ugali.When we ate and didn’t belch to show the we had taken enough, he added us more meat till we belched in unison and couldn’t take any more meat.

I am beginning to like this small cold town with great meat. The fair lady said.

I never take you to places you won’t like.She giggled.

Afterwards I told her that it was getting late and we couldn’t get to the Viewpoint where music notes hung in the air like golden dust. This meant that we could come again and partake the yummy meat at that joint. We bade Mwaura goodbye and boarded a matatu to Nairobi.

We sat at the driver’s cabin since the other seats were close to the back where sacks of leeks and onions filled the area with unholy smell. The driver was an affable Mukorino guy with two missing front teeth which gave his Gikuyu a happy French lilt. When we started discussing how Kimende people are generous with meat and how exotic it tastes, he interjected.

Whith buthery were you eating meat at?

‘Ponda Raha Bar and Butchery .The problem with Central Kenya is that bars and butcheries have names that can make you lose appetite for life.

Hio ni nyama ya funda direct .He said without  as much as looking at us, his eyes squinting into the mist ahead.Akorinos don’t lies we had been eaten donkey meat.2kg of it all.

My bowels opened up. I puked all the way such that by the time we came to Kangemi, I had puked out my liver. The heart came out at Westlands–together with the pulmonary arteries responsible for loving.Lawd! I hated Kimende-how could I even love when the parts of my heart responsible for loving had come out? Finally, at Khoja stage, I puked out the aorta and the parts responsible for hating. Now, I could now neither love nor hate. The only thing vital thing that remained in me was the soul which I couldn’t puke out since it’s indestructible.Or maybe I didn’t have one.

The following day Mwaura called to ask whether we go home safe .I narrated to him how I had vomited out almost all my vital organs and soiled the fair lady’s white dress. Which she had pointed out that I hadn’t bought.

Is the fair lady still with you? He asked me.

Yes. She is here with me making some pancakes to nurse me.

Mundu, get some wazees, send them to her folks to report that you are taking her as a wife.

I did that the following week.

The fair lady who withstood my puking from Kimende to Khoja stage is making pancakes for me as I write this.

She is my wife.

 

 

CARLOS (PART 2)

After the Safari Rally was over, we managed to feed Carlos on a buffet of wasps enough to sting a whole village to death. Red wasps, black wasps, big wasps, small wasps-he was spoilt for choice. We waited for him to get braver than ten lions, but instead he got very sick and in a short time acquired the pale hue of death. Eutychus, the wise fellow who had advised us to feed Carlos on a meal of wasps to make him brave told us that we had overdosed the poor thing with wasps. But we suspected he had bewitched our lovely dog with his evil eye.

Days rolled into weeks, Carlos didn’t get better. Each day he had a new ache, much stronger than the previous one. We knew this because we felt the pain too. He was always in brute grief, so pained that even the fleas that infested his skin deserted him like rats running away from a sinking ship. Like a father watching his son bleed in the battlefield, we watched Carlos handle his grief like gentleman. You see, to call Carlos a dog hardly served him justice. He may have had four legs and a tail, but to us who knew him well, Carlos was gentleman. More refined than some men we knew, but we didn’t dare say that aloud.

By and by, his bodily features betrayed how life had wronged him. Mortality weighed heavily on him, like unwilling sleep. We touched his coat, wishing that some of his pain could be transferred to us, and thus be shared. It didn’t happen. But Carlos bore his pains stoically, raging against the dying of the light, without  yelping like some mangy mongrels who lacked pedigree.

One day, with the single-mindedness of boys with a dog life to save, we approached Chege our cousin to come and pray for our dog. Chege was older than us and never missed Sunday school. Thus he was fluent in the saying ‘The Grace’, and such prayers. When he heard our idea, he laughed so loud that we thought we could see the githeri he had taken for his lunch in his stomach. Then he dismissed us.

With that, it became clear that Carlos death was imminent. He sat on the evening veranda of his life-reminiscing about famous hunts we have had back in the day. He ruminated on many a juicy avocado we had stolen together, and the swims we had in the River Mathioya.

Then one day, around that time when the Berlin came down, Carlos soul went up. God’s fingers touched him, and he slept eternally. He became one with the wind and joined other dog souls. While the whole world was celebrated the fall of the Cold War, we mourned the death of Carlos.

However, my mango shaped head refused to accept that Carlos had died. Maybe he had taken one of his long naps. Or he was in some dog coma from which he would come from if we stole some bones from Kuria the mean butcher and ran them over his nose. To protect his lifeless body so that we could bring it to life later, we hid him by the old muiri tree which was said to have powers to turn a boy into a girl if one run round it seven times.  But why would a boy want to turn into a girl while boyhood was so much fun? Anyway, if that tree could do that, it could revive Carlos form his coma since to us, he want fully dead. Denial.

The day at school was longer than a week in a hospital bed. We couldn’t wait for the school bell to ring our way to freedom and rush out to go check out on Carlos. When we finally arrived home, we found ants crawling on his matted skin. We ran the bones we had picked form Kuria’s dustbin over his nose, but Carlos didn’t as much raise a paw. My cousin Tony took a long stick and started beating the ant trail all the way to the hole they came from.Myself,I took to stoning the birds that chirruped above in the tree, oblivious of our sadness which hang on the whole place like a sad shawl. Anger.

Deep inside, I wondered why God has taken away Carlos and not the other less colorful dogs in the village. Why couldn’t he take all those useless village cats-all meows and airs-and leave our dog alone? We could even add Him ngunu-the old angry cow that was always itching to gore our bottoms. God, please take even the only donkey in the village and leave our dog alone. Bargaining.

For the next week, grief and despair descended on us fighting for a piece of our hearts like two jealous Naija wives. We wore a cloak of grief that was too heavy for our boyish heads. We no longer stole avocados-stealing them with Carlos not around meant nothing to us. We stopped going for the Sunday football jamboree by the river. Who could enjoy a football match when Carlos was dead? Or better, who could enjoy life in the absence of Carlos? The whole village was teeming with men and dogs, but the loss of one dog made it look empty and bereft of life. Despair.

Soon, we started reliving the times we had with Carlos. We talked about that day when he saved us from Wamatangari the village madman when Carlos appeared from nowhere when he was chasing us cracking a nyahunyo behind our backs. We reminisced on how one day Carlos led us home after we followed the Safari Rally Cars six villages away till it got dark and we got lost in some coffee bushes. We recalled how Carlos had nurtured many a dog to life by licking their lives wounds. In short we decided to celebrate Carlos life. We let Carlos dog soul rest, not because we loved him less, but because we cherished the moments we had with him more. After all, Carlos had blessed us with a thousand tail flicks, which were more honest than the handshakes we had gathered in our lifetime. Though the world was full of suffering, it was also full of overcoming that suffering. The world had just overcome the 40 year long Cold War, so we could also overcome the death of Carlos. Acceptance.

Its only when we came to this stage when we buried him under the ancient avocado tree down by the gurgling river. We called our cousin Chege to officiate as the padre since he was holier than us as he didn’t steal mangoes and avocados like us. Granted, he used to touch our sisters breasts but he didn’t steal them unlike us who ran away with every mango that our fingers touched. The burial was a solemn affair where Chege intoned in some Latin words he borrowed from the local padre. Where he lacked words, he filled the spaces with Kikuyu words or mumbled along.

After the burial, I waited to see Carlos’ soul ascending to heaven. It didn’t see it happen so I imagined him there. I saw him seated on the right side of the Light in some dog heaven where there were no strays or mongrels or mangy dogs with fleas since every dog was a thoroughbred with heavenly pedigree. In the dog’s heaven, it rained steak every morning and sausages every afternoon and avocados at dusk and the heavenly choir howled some dog ballads all night long. It’s only when we imagined that Carlos was in heaven that our minds found peace and started looking for another dog. By and by, we adopted another stray dog who remained nameless. However, he never replaced Carlos, but only expanded our hearts.

In our little minds we knew that this life isn’t fair to dogs-and maybe this also happens in the next world. Thus Carlos might have been locked out of heaven since he wasn’t washed by the blood of the Lamb. My cousin and I swore that if Carlos wasn’t in heaven, then when we die, we want to go where Carlos went. But if heaven really goes by merit and not favour, then Carlos is there, howling eternally while jumping up and down the golden stairs by the crystal shore.

Losing Carlos was painful for us ten year olds because we never pretended to love him-we loved him more than we loved ourselves. Thirty years down the line, I hardly recall the fall of Berlin Wall in October 1989 since that’s the time Carlos died. But I vividly recall Carlos since he left paw prints in or hearts no age can erase. This is because a loved one is not truly forgotten until he or she is no longer remembered. Carlos lives in our hearts, and like all things ever enjoyed can never be lost, but is a part of us.

When Carlos came into our lives, he taught us about love. When he left, he taught us about loss. No Professor, however well read, will ever teach you that.

 

 

PS

So,did Carlos go to heaven? Did his soul find itself at the Pearly Gates,with ol’ Peter calling out his name as the saints go marching in? Find out  about that in Carlos Part 3 .

Thank you for getting time to visit the blog

M.G.

 

 

 

 

 

CARLOS (PART 1)

Easter  Saturday,1988.It was a muddy day, wet than a widow’s handkerchief. The mango season was over so there were no succulent mangoes tempting us to steal them. Our mango shaped ten year old heads had to come up with mischief to keep us busy all Easter weekend. Thus my cousin and I decided to go and hunt for wasps for Carlos our dog. Now Carlos was like our  second self-a pillar of canine benevolence.His spaniel eyes made everybody feel like buying him a year’s supply of steak for his palate and shampoo for his matted hair.We lived for Carlos who loved us more than he loved himself.

The idea of wasps had been hatched a few days earlier in school. Back then, boys were endowed with  certain inalienable rights: among these were right to life, liberty and right to own dogs. You could also add right to all the succulent mangoes that hang in the village mango trees like earrings on a beautiful ladies face. Thus to fully exercise this right ,my cousins and I had motley of dogs between us. They were perpetually hungry creatures-some stray, some tame some wild- that always followed us like shadows. When we ate, they ate. When we swam in the treacherous Mathioya River, they swam. Sadly, when our scrawny backsides got whipped for stealing mangoes or whichever fruit had tempted us, they too took a beating.

There were dogs,and then there was Carlos.He was the compulsively friendly mongrel we had named after the famous terrorist-Carlos the Jackal. Of course we got the name from Mr.Munderu our history teacher after Socrates,our previous favourite dog died. We told other boys that Carlos’ mother was a leopard and his father a mountain lion and that he had jaguar aunties and puma uncles. But Carlos was no more than bag of bones with fleas enough to infest a small village to pandemic levels. His tail was permanently between his thin legs. He was not living to his famous billing. We had to do something to redeem his image.

To us, Carlos was more than a dog. In our journey in the village lanes towards becoming men, Carlos was our benefactor; our dumb constant north. He had this existenstial angst in his eyes which other people took for a lonely stare but us boys knew better.His primordial instinct helped us to know where the juiciest avocadoes were ripening. When we wanted to cross the often moody Mathioya River and get sugarcanes beckoning to be eaten by us the other side, Carlos guided us on the safest place to do so.Many a day, when we became too wayward and our mothers denied us food, we shared our last stolen avocado with Carlos, knowing too well that he will never repay us with similar avocado, but with unfaltering loyalty. He gave us our first lessons in loyalty, in swimming and many other vitals skills of boyhood. Carlos lived for us; one woof at a time. His bark was his honour. But his meekness troubled us a lot and we had to get a solution fast.

Thus we approached Eutychus- the boy who had repeated Class Four  three times and sported a nice beard. At some point we had applied paraffin to our chins so that we could sprout a beard and be like him, but it didn’t work. That was our first lesson in scams.Eutychus was the brightest of them all; he always had a solution for all our boyish problems tucked in some corner of his guava shaped head. He loved us because we were very obedient-we diligently delivered the perfumed letters he used to write to our elder sisters. We didn’t deliver them because we loved our mean big sisters that much, but because we respected Eutychus more.

At the price of two stolen sugarcane sticks, Eutychus advised us to feed the meek canine on a meal of wasps three times a week. Henceforth, Carlos would scare even the devil himself. I tell you this boy was genius.

Every dog has its day-that’s how Easter Saturday found us hunting for wasps for Carlos’ problems. We took the bushy footpath towards Boyo, the gurgly river that washed our villages’ sins downstream. The guava trees around the river had plenty of wasp nests. Several wasp stings later, we decided that the best time to catch them was at night and abandoned the mission altogether. This meant that we would be idle until nightfall when we would embark on the wasp job.

Girls will always be girls, always trying to enhance one or other aspect of beauty. In the village then, grapevine had it that if you took a specific water beetle that used to thrive in the rivers and made it bite your  titties, they would bloom big enough to cause an eclipse. This knowledge had been passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter, long before the Americans came up with silicone implants for the same purpose. Thus we decided to look for water beetles and sell them to the progressive village belles later, each at the price of one chapati. Our heads were always teeming with brilliant ideas those days.

When we had collected enough water beetles to turn our village into big boob’s fetishist   heaven, hell broke loose. A loud helicopter loomed on the horizon, its steel blades cutting the rarified village air into pieces.

A Lancia Delta Intergrale, loud enough to wake the devil from his afternoon siesta, came charging at us from the road that led to the next ridge. In one brief moment, my brief life which was largely consisted of episodes of mango stealing flashed before me. I tried to say the Lord’s Prayer, which I only knew the Kikuyu version, but gave up the idea altogether when I reckoned that Jesus was a handsome white man who didn’t understand Kikuyu.

After the rally car passed us, we followed it down the muddy path watching it skid with glee. Carlos followed the car too, salivating at the Farmers Choice sausages emblemed on the car’s sides. Carlos had never tasted a single sausage all his life, but all in all he knew sausages existed. Just like we human beings have never been to heaven, but we know it’s up there. Dogs got canine faith too.

For us boys, we were following the rally cars for a different reason; the big spare tyre at the cars back could make a nice wheel for our carts. We had to pinch it.If we could steal old lady Jerusha’s mangoes without her detecting us, we could steal the big spare wheel behind Kirkland’s Car No.9 without him noticing.

The Safari Rally -the greatest duel between man, machine and time- was underway. The wasps and water beetles could wait!

(Continued in Carlos Part 2-https://www.drummajor.co.ke/carlos-part-2/)

 

 

MY FATHER IS A FATHER

Holidays divides us. Christmas divides us into two groups-those who got lots to spend and those with hungry nights to spend. Father’s Day, which is increasingly becoming popular and commoditized just like Christmas, divides us into two too. Those who have doting fathers and those with yawning gaps where their father’s memories should be. There is no one who is lonelier than a fatherless kid during Father’s Day.

Father’s Day also divides us into those who were brought up in the poster perfect father-mother-child (ren) kind of family. The Mr. and Mrs. Kamau of ‘Hallo Children’ trilogy kind of family. On the other divide, we have those that were brought up in families where the mother was the father and the children took up the mothers surname in school. Kids who when they asked where dad went to, were told that he was run over by an old charcoal lorry that lost its brakes. Kids who were told that their dads went to fight in a foreign war and never came back or packed their briefs and left.

The Gikuyu nation, which prides itself in being somehow a matriarchal society, has its unfair share of children whose dads left and never come back. This has never bothered anybody though since in Gikuyu land, children belong to women. When a daughter of Mumbi marries say a Kamba and divorces, the first question her mom asks her when she comes home is ‘So, you have you left our children to be killed by those wicked people, huh?’ What happens next is that platoon of ruthless brothers, uncles, volunteers and clan layabouts are dispatched to rescue the said children and bring them back to the clan.

This explains why we have so many Gikuyu men using their mother’s names as surnames. Gikuyu men, from politicians to musicians to the village bumpkins, even those that have dads, take great pride in flossing their mothers’ names. Thus we have DK wa Maria(musician) Kamaru wa Wanjiru(musician) Mwangi wa Njambi(poet, or so he thinks) etc etc.

Story has it that in the beginning, from the times of Agu and Agu the pioneers of the Agikuyu, the Gikuyu households were ruled by Mumbi the matriach. All the nine daughters with their husbands (it’s said they were all Kamba, but that’s another long story) and Gikuyu lived under Mumbi’s compound. They served her and suffered under her petticoat tyranny. I hope no feminist comes breathing fire coz of that misogynistic term but hey, it sounds sweet!

Anyhow, in the year 1498 AD, around that time when Vasco da Gama came calling at Malindi, all Gikuyu men decided enough was enough. A strike meeting was called under the ancient mugumo tree in Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga in Muranga’, the cradle of the Agikuyu.The strike leaders were a cantankerous duo called Ndemi and Mathathi.Fellows who could sing ‘solidarity fovever’ better than Sossion.

Nitunogetio ni watho wa atumia,niguo?(We are tired of the tyranny of our women,are we?) Said Ndemi.

Ii niguo!(Yes we are!) The one million men shouted back.  The thunder of their voice could be heard all the way to the land of Ukabi(Maasai),Kikuyus perennial enemies.

Nimukwenda wathani wao uthire?(Do you want to end their tyrannical rule?) Asked Mathathi.

Ii nitukwenda!(Yes we want!) The million Gikuyu men roared back.

After day long deliberations that involved consumption of rivers of muratina, it was agreed that all men will put their women in the family way.

‘O mundu wothe athie arute wira wake utuku wa umuthi’, Reiterated Ndemi as the men dispersed.

It’s expected that every man is going to do his honorable duty tonight.Those words by Ndemi echo those of Lord Nelson-the chap who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. All great men speak the same language during revolutionary times.

This came to be known as Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga Declaration of 1498 the year of the porcupine. Since men from that era were serious mohines who shot without missing or wasting arrows, all men got down to their honorable (and pleasurable) duty that night. Even those who had 9 wives like Mwangi wa Gakame my grandfather 22 generations behind me did his duty according to lore passed down by word of mouth.

In nine months’ time, all women in Gikuyuland were heavily pregnant. They could neither defend themselves nor fight back. Then, men staged a bloodless coup and established themselves as the heads of households. They also established their thingiras as centres as power and since then, men have always held sway in Gikuyuland.When you hear a Gikuyu man drunkenly singing ‘1498 was a good year’,you now know why.

Women are like water, they have a very strong collective memory. Water is always rushing to the sea where it came from. Gikuyu women are always trying to reinstate the status quo-600 years down the line. Any Gikuyu household is a battlefield with mama watoto trying to usurp mzees chair and restore the pre-1498 status. When they succeed, they take us fatherhood roles relatively well, since they once headed households and were dads.

Sometime back I had a chat with a friend whom I have known for so many years whose mum is one of those who double up as a dad. He was brought up without his dad. Like all such Gikuyu men, he wears his mom’s name like a badge of honor.Chege wa Mwihaki. His logbooks read such. His title deeds too.

“I don’t even remember that Mwihaki is my mom’s name.’’ Chege tells me.

He says with that confidence of a son of a woman. Sons of women tend to be overconfident, almost self-conceited. See, you can’t be brought up by a woman who doubles up as your mom and dad and sometimes granddad and be a wimp. It’s against tribal rules.

As we chat along, he remembers his dad as a man who used to visit home often with Jack and Jill toys for him and bring along The Seed and Beyond Magazine all which were published by the Catholic Church.

He bought me my first pair of Tokyo trousers, Chege intones, all carried away. Tokyo trousers were big back then-only kids with serious dads could afford such.

He had this beautiful moustache, he adds. Men distill great events into a single sentence. If a man describes his dad in such a way, he had a good relationship with him. He is exempt from daddy issues.

You see, my father is Father. A padre if you like.

Silence.

I take time to absorb that, mindful of my body language lest it betrays me that am shocked or judgmental about it all. This is a moment that can make or break our friendship which started in high school where we first met, bloomed in campus where we shared a room and matured in life when we came of age. I was taking liberal sciences and he was taking Botany and Zoology but we always had a meeting point.

Anyway, a father is a father, I muse.

So, are you going to buy him a bottle of wine or something this Father’s Day? I ask him.

You don’t give my father wine, he gives out wine. To thousands, every Sunday. He ends with a chuckle. I chuckle too-the ice has been broken.

So I imagine Chege’s dad celebrating Holy Eucharist on Father’s day in some remote parish in Marsabit. He dons a well-trimmed moustache just like Chege’s, though his is speckled with silver. Or a well-tended goatee. You know how old men grow beard to proclaim manhood that is already fled? He lifts the silver orb before the congregation and intones in English with a Latin twang:

Deliver us, Oh Lord, from all evils past, present and to come: and by the intercession of Virgin Mary…

He purifies the paten and breaks bread.

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.

Amen. The Congregation answers back

I am not much a Catholic so my imaginary mass ends there. So back to Chege.

So, when he is in good mood, does he give you wine?  I ask.

Sure he does.

Church wine?

No.Grape wine. We laugh again.Chege always had this pithy one-liners since our college days.

By and by, like all Gikuyu men, we drift off to matters plots and development and all that. Any conversation between Gikuyu men is incomplete without exchanging notes on how each is faring ‘developmentwise’.Maybe it’s coded in all the waru and cabbages we eat-someone needs to research on that.

Did you finish that house at Kamulu? Last time you told me you were plastering. I pose.

Oh, that one? I kinda got stuck. But my dad came in and threw in some 200k which helped me with the roofing. He says.

I like the way he has used the word ‘dad’. Not father, with all the social ambiguities it may carry. Just dad. He is now like a small boy looking up to that brooding figure who fixes his bicycle’s chains when it comes of and brings him chipo mwitu and throws him in the air when they play.  Father is no longer an abstraction, but real man.All men got a small man in them that calls out for daddy, a father figure. So much for my rudimentary psychoanalysis.

Hey, you don’t feel guilty roofing your house with church money, our money?

Chege takes a long thought, a smile playing on his lips. Am sure a bombshell is coming.

With your Murang’a men stinginess, when is the last time you did tithe?

We talk a long laugh, like two hyenas cackling away in the Maasai Maara.Chege’s phones flashes.

Mum, kata simu nikupigie. He says in the softest voice. Mum, kindly disconnect I will call you now. He then excuses himself and comes back 30 minutes later.

Though Kikuyu men are mummy’s boy through and through, fatherhood has its place. We  get our hardworking genes from our moms. There is special helix in their DNA for handwork. However, the stinginess comes from our dads. They have double helix in their genes that codes for being stingy.

So will you tell your kid that their grandpa went off to fight in Gulf War and never came back?

I ask, abit hesitant.

They already know him. My father is a proud granddad.

You see fatherhood is getting redefined daily. For Chege’s dad, fatherhood cannot be measured by the kids romping in his compound, since socially, that’s not allowed. But that doesn’t make him less of a father.

For the younger generation, fatherhood isn’t about the CCs one packs in his blue Subaru. Or the number of slay queens who have watched your bedsitter’s ceiling all night. Fatherhood cannot be measured with a tape around  a mans biceps.

Fatherhood can be measured by the quality of a smile of a woman in a man’s life. Fatherhood can be measured by the way his children remember him. Ultimately, by what he defined manhood to them.

Fatherhood is a verb.