KARIS

For men, time can be me measured in days, weeks and a beard. When a man’s beard reaches a certain length, one can tell a week has passed and thus head to the barbers. Thus this Saturday morning found me going to my barbers, a gay mugithi tune playing on my thick lips. Karis my barber is the smooth talking young chap who thinks that all the world’s problems can be solved through a haircut. All problems from ED to midlife crisis to global warming.

 

Vipi buda,kunitupa nayo! He hails me.

I am fine, and you? I retort.

Poa mtu wangu.  Karis answers back.

 

However many times you talk to Karis in English, he will always answer in sheng. That bastard of a language whose growth is phenomenal. There was a time he used to speak a certain brand of ghetto sheng that was thicker than the sewage from some estate in Eastlands.But he toned it down when he realized that I don’t get it.

After salutations, Karis pores at my face and shakes his head in disgust.

 

Eish,hio shave niaje leo? How about a shave today?

 

I have not forgiven the joker for the gross injustice he visited upon my face the last time he shaved me.He trimmed my moustache like Hitlers,something that gave me nightmares of crowds shouting Heil Fuhrer unto me. The other time he trimmed it so thin that it looked like an eyebrow that had come down for a bite. This Karis fellow should be dragged to the ICC for crimes against moustachity.

Karis is not a bad fellow though. He is not like those barbers with rough hands who massage one neck like a Nazi hangman. Karis massages my moustache as if it’s insured with a million dollars like Tina Turner’s legs. He is one man who is aware that with a great beard comes responsibility. Thus he pampers us men with great care, one chin at a time.

 

You see, a man’s beard is his bar code. Whether it is arrogant sideburns, a handlebar moustache, a rude goatee or a grizzly bushy beard that can scare an army, facial hairs adds panache to a rather dull face. It gives what the Americans call oomph to a drab visage. It adds what the French call je ne sais quoi (that indescribable quality) to plain Pauls of this world. It can make or break a man outlook.

By and by, I find myself seated on Karis shaving chair which fits all buttock sizes. Karis has this habit of yapping about mundane topics like football. So when he mentions the upcoming World Cup, I keep mute until he changes the topic. I am one of those fellows who got no wavelength for the so called beautiful game.

 

So why do you keep a moustache? Karis asks me.This is not a bad topic compared to football.He has just given me an opportunity to elucidate on the polemics of a beard. So I start.

 

You see, moustache can be an indicator of a man’s ideological leaning. An arrogant moustache, like musketeers, is an indicator of a brave liberal soul. A well-trimmed moustache, like poets, indicates romantic being. A man who keeps a bushy moustache is likely to be iconoclastic, a rebellious soul. Some communities have considered moustaches symbols of virility and power…..

 

Buda,kizungu mingi jo! Karis quips.

 

 I addition , a well-kept  moustache can be conveniently used to hide a swollen upper lip after mama watoto hurls a pan at you for coming home after her curfew hours. That’s free advice for your Karis. I say with finality.

 

Hapo umegonga ndipo buda, Karis states heroically. For once I have said something that makes sense to him.After he is done with trimming my beard, I complain that I don’t look dapper as he had promised. I have been conned again.

 

Buda, unajua ni kwa nini? I shake my head.

Tumerekebisha nywele lakini sio sura.Sura ni ile ile. We have made changes to your facial hair but not the face. This guy always has answers in his sleeve.

 

So what do we do? I ask him.

Facial mtu wangu! He exclaims. Mwanamme siku hizi ni facial.

 

So this sly chap now wants me to cough some more money for some feminine procedure called facial. One of my greatest fears is how my daughter and her giggly friends would laugh at me if they found me covered in that gooey white stuff they apply on the face while doing a facial.Haidhuru,we do the facial.

Halfway through it, my phone rings. It’s the young lass in my household. When the said young lass calls, the world comes to stop. When her calls are not picked, she will send 5 please call me, 10 sms and a thousand crying emojis on Whatsapp.All in rapid succession.

 

Nataka pesa ya saloon. She says from the other end. Promptly, she arrives tagging along two of her friends, all giggles and lollipops. My face is all lathered up, like a slay queen getting ready for a weekend of partying. My daughter rolls her eyes all the way to China and back.

 

Dad, what’s that? Yuck!

I have not recovered from the eye rolls I got from her and her friends. I hand them cash and of they go holding their little hands together in their giggly friendship. Am sure my daughters’ friends are wondering what kind of dad their friend has.

 

Usijali buda,watoi huwa hivo.Karis consoles me.Kids are like that.

 

We are almost dones.Karis then slaps me with a bill that reads like the annual budget of Burundi. I protest.

Why is my bill so huge? I ask him.

Kuna bathing charges mtu wangu, Karis answers me without batting an eyelid.

What do you mean? I retort.

Buda,ndevu yako ilikuwa na chakula ya jana so imebidi nikuoshe kwanza.

Boss, your beard had yesterday’s supper on it so I had to bathe you first. Thus the bathing charges.

 

This Karis fellow will not enter the eternal kingdom in the hereafter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BALAAM’S BIG ASS

The village where I come from, the next and the next have no donkeys. Actually, you can count the number of donkeys in our County in the fingers of one hand. The County is too hilly for the animal whose haulage abilities are legendary. It’s also too cold in some places. Thirdly, the locals, who are mainly descended from some fierce Mau Mau, are not known for their benevolence to our dumb friends. Thus donkeys, in their asinine wisdom, give my County a wide a berth.

So back in the day, this adventurous soul bought a donkey. A big fully grown female one with   flap-like ears and flaring nostrils. The thing carried herself like a prima donna in the village lanes. Like an asinine slay queen, she sneered at other lesser mortals like cows and goats. Why? She was well aware that her ancestors had carried the Messiah in his triumphant entry to Bethlehem. The donkey’s owner argued that his donkey learnt this story after she chewed on a Bible and the gospel sunk in into her donkey brain. Due to her novelty, she commanded some higher ranking in the village food chain. Thus the donkey sometimes feasted on dainties that other animals could only dream of.

The villagers, in their own wisdom, nicknamed the donkey’s owner Balaam-the character in the Bible who owned an obstinate donkey. Well, this Balaam fellow didn’t deserve that name. It was said that when he was young, his mother shaved him and forgot to dispose the hair. An eagle picked the hairs and built a nest with them. In our place, when such a thing happened, one would run mad.Thus Balaam was thus the unstable type, always teetering between normalcy and madness. But there was method to his madness. One of them was the donkey idea which no one had ever thought of before.

Whatever business Balaam did with his donkey was a matter of heated village discourse. The local women brigade swore that those sacks that the donkey hauled to the market were not full of nappier grass. Deeper inside was concealed a very unchristian herb that was known to make people laugh sheepishly. The donkey, they added, would sometimes chew the potent herb and thus if you got closer to her you could hear her silent laughter. The shrub was also responsible for the donkey’s sometimes randy behavior. But she could be excused there was no he-donkey around to whisper to her some amorous donkey gibberish at those times of the month. She was a woman, you know.

Despite that, the Mothers Union members always allocated a moment of prayer for Balaam’s donkey in their Sunday programme.

The Mothers Union didn’t pray for Balaam’s donkey because they loved it so but for another reason altogether. The village was the hiding place of alcoholism. While the women were being filled with the Holy Spirit in the local church, their husbands and sons would be imbibing all manner of banned spirits at the village shebeen. The shebeen was an eternal one room affair that had defied time, curses and prayers. Like a heathen totem to hedonism, it stood at the center of the market facing the church, challenging it to a moral duel. Their doors were diametrically opposed, and so were their duties. But their short-term roles were the same-gratifying needs that couldn’t be met at home. So the shebeen forever faced the church, beckoning at her like wicked Jezebel, daring her to imbibe of her cloying nectarines and stagger down the primrose path to damnation.

When the men had their fill, their throats would be filled with song and their knees with jelly. Some would sleep right at the gate of the church on a Saturday night. Maybe to spite their mothers and wives who worshipped there. There was this mechanic fellow who would always confuse the church gate for his home. In his drunken wisdom, he would hang his threadbare Azzaro shirt on the fence. His overalls would be his pillow. The skies would be his blanket. Thus Sunday school kids would find him fast asleep, his tattered boxers doing a losing job in trying to shelter his unshaved dirty dignity from their curious eyes.

It is sights like that demanded the services of Balaam and his donkey. Being a hilly area, a taxi would be too expensive and untenable for the duty at hand. Balaam would be hastily called, and in a jiffy, he would be there with his trusted strong beast. The long suffering wife would point to the sleeping man, as if he was leperous.Balaam, on the other hand, would exercise maximum leverage of the situation.

‘How mech?’

He would ask matter of factly. Balaam prided himself in being the only person in the County, apart from Dr.Gikonyo Kiano, who could speak Cambridge English. And do complex Carey Francis math too. Well, it was said that he repeated class 2 so many times until his lot reached class 8.Then, in his wisdom, he graduated himself, never to go back to school again. But that didn’t deter him from speaking Queen’s English.

’Mbauni. ’The woman would reply.

Mbauni was a corruption of a pound. It was a lot of money then, enough to buy a kid goat. Balaam would immediately feign annoyance, speak English to his animal and pretend to go home.

‘See you when you see me’, Balaam would say with a tone of finality.

He was never lacking in one-liners borrowed from yellow movies and seedy cheap novels. It would take the coaxing of an aunty, a distant grandmother and some extra coins to coax Balaam to take the drunken man home.

Quite Easily Done!’

He would say as he rode off with the still drunk man now snoring atop the back of his donkey.

Thus the relationship between Balaam and village women was symbiotic. He could continue with his trade of ferrying some illegal herb as long as he was available to rescue them from the shame that was their men on Sunday mornings. The rumour that Balaam would sometimes be seen leaving some of the women’s homes when the husbands were away could also be tolerated. Is it not written forgive they neighbor? Doesn’t  the Holy book ask us not to judge?

One day, Balaam’s the donkey disappeared-pap.Nowhere to be seen. There was a two paragraph announcement about it during the church service. Balaam, who was last seen in the church during his baptism, attended church for the first time since the fall of Berlin Wall. He was heard praying loudest, like someone possessed. The service had to be lengthened to accommodate additional prayers for his donkey.

‘Lord, we also pray for the recovery of goods of undisclosed value that Balaam’s donkey was carrying. If this happens, honor and glory shall be unto you’. Intoned the parish vicar.

Ameeeeen.’ For the first time in years, Sam gave offerings to the Lord. Earnestly.

Some slow days passed; Balaam’s donkey was not back. Then other donkey week passed, then a donkey month. Hope was slowly turning to despair. The Mother’s Union members would ask him to be patient for God would one day answer their prayers. ‘God can never be rushed, ‘they told him.

One evening, Balaam decided to rush God. The church had not helped him so far, so, its nemesis would do. With a freshly sharpened machete, he stormed the village shebeen. His eyes were redder than raspberries. Drunks there tried to make small talk with him. A murderous wave of the machete implied he was not interested. Veins crisscrossed his face, threatening to burst any moment. Well, his face normally looked like a map to every dirty shebeen in the location, but tonight it was even fiercer.

Listen!’  His voice was tremulous, yet firm. Balaam was blessed with a booming Old Testament voice, so when he spoke, people listened. Or drunks listened.

The hush that befell the shebeen was audible. Most drunks, who whizzed like old Fiat lorries after years of smoking kianjumbi-the locally rolled tobacco-had to stifle many a cough.

If I don’t get my donkey by tomorrow sunset, then….’he trailed off, his voice breaking. Some drunks whose brakes were loose felt some warm wetness on their pants.

‘Just ask what I did to the other village when they stole my donkey.

With that he strode into the night, his machete glistening in the moonlight. The following morning, he woke up to the baying of his donkey tethered to the ancient avocado tree in his compound.

‘So, what did you do to the other village when they stole your donkey?’

Some brave toothless drunk asked Balaam later that day.

‘I walked home.’

 

ALL DAYS ARE NOT SATURDAYS

When I was 10, with knobkerries for knees and fan like ears, I had teacher called Mr.Munderu.God rest his soul in eternal peace. There were teachers, and then there was Teacher Munderu.Note the caps in ‘Teacher’.He took to teaching with the zeal of an Old Testament prophet. If he said one and one was eleven, not even the local dreaded Chief could undo that.If he said the sun rises from the West,it would rise from the West for us 10 year olds.

As young boys travelling in the village lanes towards being men, Teacher Munderu was our constant North.

Perimeter is all the way round

One July morning he whipped all of us one hundred plus souls out into the parade square. He then made us go round the whole school block shouting ‘perimeter ni muthiururuko!’Perimeter is going all the way round. Any child who lagged behind had this mantra hammered into his or her thick head with his well-worn cane. By lunch hour we were still going round the block shouting hungrily ‘perimeter ni muthiururoko!’ It’s only when the area Education Officer’s Enduro motorbike roared into the parade square and Teacher .Munderu disappeared into the staff room that we crawled back to class.

Not an attack of Alzheimer’s, however acute, will erase from my grey head what perimeter is.

First World War

One lazy afternoon, Teacher Munderu was teaching us about World War One. For the entire afternoon that the lesson-or you can say the war-lasted, the whole classroom exploded with the boom boom of the British Maxim Gun. Like a B52 bomber, Teacher .Munderu swooped on Eutychus, the tall mean boy who sported a beard at Class 4. He then brandished two chairs over our scared heads and smashed them to pieces like torpedoed German U-boats. Like a fearless Austria-Hungarian soldier at the Battle of Somme, he aimed his bayonet at the swollen tummy of my cousin Tony who always sat at the front so that he could always get Nyayo milk packet first.

 

Then he grabbed him by his tiny neck till veins on his forehead threatened to burst. Swiftly, he turned him upside down, sending the guavas he had stolen at old lady Jerusha’s scattering on the floor like grenades from some GI’s pockets.Lawd-First World War was bad! Being taught about it by Teacher .Munderu made it even badder.

 

When Teacher.Munderu announced that the next lesson would be about Second War, I conveniently got very sick. Well, I used to have this recurring attack of tonsillitis from eating too many stolen guavas, so it was easy to feign a grave tonsillitis attack. I would rather endure a tonsils jab from the huge matronly Sister Teresia at Kiangunyi Catholic Mission than endure Teacher Munderu’s Second World War.

 

Despite all this, I couldn’t wait to grow up and don a bushy beard like Teacher Munderu’s.And play Bob Marley’s music from a huge stereo like his and have crib of my own like his full of books about Jomo and Steve Biko and Marcus Garvey and such fiery men. Man, I couldn’t wait to be a man and be free.

 

Apart from Teacher Munderu, our other friends used to be dogs. With my cousin, we had motley of perpetually hungry dogs-both tame and stray- that always followed us like shadows. When we ate, they ate. When we swam in the treacherous Mathioya River, they swam. When we took a beating for stealing mangoes, our dogs took a beating too. There was even this old dog which would volunteer to take a beating for its Master, since it couldn’t fight for him. God rest its canine soul in some dog heaven.

Carlos the Jackal

Then there was Carlos-the mongrel we had named after the famous terrorist-the Jackal. Of course we got the name from Teacher Munderu. We told the boys that his mother was a leopard and his father a mountain lion and that he had jaguar aunties. But Carlos was no more than bag of bones and his tail was permanently between his legs. He had fleas enough to infest a small village. He was not living to his famous billing. Some bright boy who had miraculously survived Teacher Munderu’s First World War thrice as he had repeated Class Four 4 three times advised us to feed the meek canine on a meal of wasps. Henceforth, Carlos would scare even the devil himself.

 

We had to consult the wisest man around. One idle Saturday morning when guavas were out of season and thus there was nothing tempting us to steal it, of we went to Teacher Munderus.We had to hurry. It was on Saturdays like this that Aunt Keziah started kneading dough at two pm  and gave an offer we could never refuse-to go down to the ill-tempered mama near the river and borrow her frying pan in exchange for her first chapati.We lived for Saturdays and Aunt Keziahs chapos offers. Even if she sent us to pick the frying pan from hell,we would still have done it.

 

Mwarimu,is it true that if we feed Carlos with wasps he won’t be afraid of even the police?

 

Teacher Munderu glanced at us, our dogs and saw hunger. He promptly handed us a bunch of bananas. A busy mouth can’t ask pesky questions. Then he got into his crib, pored at his big books, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Our dogs started scratching their fleas. Teacher Munderu read on. My cousin fished a guava from his pockets, took a bite and handed me the remainder to eat.

Then Teacher Munderu closed the Bible he was reading. We made ourselves comfortable on his wick stools. Carlos cocked his ears.

Jesus Rastafari

 

’One Saturday morning, Jesus washed his dreadlocks and hits the streets of Jerusalem listening to Bob Marley’s No Woman no Cryfrom his Sony Walkman’, He started.

He was in stone wash jeans and a t-shirt and swanky North Star sneakers.’

 

My! So Jesus was such a cool dude, huh?

“So Jesus walked on and on down the streets of Salem like the God he was. He was headed to the temple to pray on that Saturday morn, like a true Rasta’. Teacher Munderu continued.

My mango shaped head  sensed danger. Jesus had a record of whipping a business people when he found them in the temple. How about us mere boys and dirty dogs? Anyhow, I had to be ready for it.I sat at the edge of my seat, making sure my cousin and the dogs came between me and Teacher Munderu. My cousin was not a keen Christian like me so he didn’t know that Jesus whipped people when he went into the temple.

 

‘Along the way, Jesus comes across some masons in a mjengo carrying building bricks.’

 

 I breathed a sigh of relief-Jesus wasn’t headed to the temple after all.

 

‘Verily verily I say unto you, may what each of you is carrying be converted to bread,Jesus said with a firm still voice.

 

Behold, whatever each mason was carrying become a loaf of bread. The bigger the brick, the bigger the loaf was. My, why was I born after swanky Jesus had left?

 

The following Sunday a multitude had gathered at the mjengo spot, each carrying the biggest load of bricks he or she could carry. Most could barely move, but were waiting for Jesus. Some sharp boys had even put some bricks on the back of their dogs.

Teacher Munderu intoned, seemingly in a trance.

 

Jesus never fails. Teacher Munderu continued. So next Saturday, at exactly midday, Jesus appeared.

I moved closer to Teacher Munderu-bread was coming. Lots of it.

All days are not Saturdays

Jesus adjusted his akala shoes and surveyed the eager crowd. Some young chaps from Bethlehem exchanged high fives with him.

 

Hindi ciothe ti njuma !, Jesus said. All days are not Saturdays.

 

With that he was off to Cana of Galilee for a pre-wedding party. But he had to first pass at Bethany to have his dreadlocks set by certain lady who in some later date washed his feet and dried them with his hair. This man Jesus!

 

This story by Teacher Munderu sent me forth on a journey. Henceforth, I skimmed through my mums Bible looking for the story. Upto class eight, I was still looking for the story. The story wasn’t there.

 

Mum, is this story about Jesus turning stones into bread true? I asked mum someday.

Read the Bible, she answered. I re-read the Bible once more. Still, it wasn’t there. Could they have cut out Teacher Munderu’s story from the Bible?

 

When I sprouted a scraggy beard and left my doggy ways, I met a boy who told me there were other books left out in mum’s Bible I was reading. Thus I thumbed through the books of Tobith, Judith, Maccabees, Sirach and Baruch looking for that story. It wasn’t there too.

 

By the time I realized that the story was a figment of Teacher Munderu’s imagination, I had read the Holy Bible several times over. Teacher Munderu may not have taught me much at Class 4, but he lit a fire in me that led to a lifelong odyssey in search of knowledge-and truth.

 

Sometimes it’s not very important what a person was. What matters is what we remember who he was-to us.

 

 

 

KENTUCKY FRIED GUINEA FOWL

There is this short story by Grace Ogot about a man called Tekayo. One Saturday morn, Tekayo is grazing his goats, lazily chewing on a blade of grass for inspiration. Like the way accountants chew on their biro pens. Suddenly, a piece of meat falls from the sky. Heaven sent if you like. Tekayo is starving-he has not taken a bite for a week. His sulking wife has been ignoring his SMS’S to bring him food. So, he takes the piece of meat to be a gift from the god of herders and neglected husbands.

The piece of meat turns out to be so succulent that Tekayo thinks that he’s been feeding on leftovers all his life. This must be the food of the gods, he muses. The succulent piece of meat sets him on a journey that finally sees him eat his grandchild. His story ends tragically, but since mine has a happy ending-like a session at a masseuse’s, let’s leaves Tekayo and his meat there.

I am telling this story since I once had a Tekayo moment. That moment when you stumble on something so delicious that you wonder where it has been all along. It was one of those field assignments that take one on a journey on which when you come back to the office, you are no longer the same again. But again, no man should go on a journey and come back the same again. Just like a man cannot touch the same river twice, since it’s not the same river, and he is not the same man.Journeys change us, for better, for worse, but most definitely-they do.

So, I was on this assignment in Northern Kenya to an ungooglable village called Mansa.We were three of us; my colleague plus Ndururu the driver.Now,Ndururu is a cheery old chap who can regale you with stories nonstop in the 700km road trip  from Wajir to Nairobi. Without repeating himself. He told us stories of Shifta War.He told us of the horrors of Wagalla Massacre. When he noticed we were getting bored, he sang us some ancient Somali water songs that he has been carrying in his throat like a griot of from antiquity.

With miraa twigs delicately balanced in his hands, we drove on in this this dusty desolate place. Sometimes we came to some rocky patch, and Ndururu drove at the pace of a starving snail. Then we came to flat places all full of sand, and Ndururu drove like hell was following him. Then we came to wild places where the vehicle rocked like mad camel, but the warrior in Ndururu tamed it.

Just about noon, when Ndururu was regaling us with the story of ouster of Siad Barre, we came to this windswept place where the wind tore through the valley with this mournful sound.

What’s that sound? I asked Ndururu.

Long time ago, in this land lived two young people called Leila and Feila-Ndururu began his story. Leila was beautiful like a water nymph. People said that there were two stars in her eyes where pupils should have been.Feila was tall and lithe, camels stopped to watch him walk when passed by. The two were deeply in love.Feila could never get enough of watching Leila’s eyes. But their love was jinxed since they came from two enemy clans. Thus they lived a life of unrequited love. When they died, they were finally united, since the imam directed that they be buried alongside each other. Eventually, two beautiful trees grew from where they were burried.The two trees hugged each other as they grew, and danced in the wind when it blew along. The sound we were hearing was the sound of Feila whistling away, finally reunited with his lover. The two trees never went dry, even in the driest season.

We relished the story, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do.

 

Ndururu ,hio miti mbili iko wapi? (Ndururu,where are those two trees?)

Hio miti mbili iko haba tu.(Those two tree are in these region)

Wapi haswa?(Where exactly?)

Waria wee fungua macho vizuri,utaona hio miti.(Open your eyes and you will see them)

 

So we went on with the journey scanning the bushes for those two magical trees. My colleague scanned the right side, while I scanned the left side. Ndururu went on singing some water songs, but this time around he threw in a sad love poem for Leila and Feila.I didn’t see any Leila tree, neither did my colleague   see any Feila tree. All we saw were flocks of guinea fowls-beautiful birds that scurried along the sandy roads in resplendent colors.

‘Waria nyinyi mnaangali kitoweo,sio? (You are starring at the guinea fowls since they make some nice stew, isn’t it?)

No.I told Ndururu that in our place we don’t eat guinea fowls or kanga, since they are not even there. He chuckled mischievously.

Ultimately, we came to Mansa and went straight to the Chiefs office. Ndururu happens to have relative in every village in Northern Kenya-the Chief was one of them. In these places, the Chief is the only person who can speak English. But in fact it’s a smattering of broken English-three mispronounced words of English followed by ten words of Somali. And lots of guttural sounds in between that have meaning. Then he assumes you are getting what he says, and you do so.The Chief acted as our translator and somehow, work got done.

After work, the English speaking Chief welcomed us to his dash. The Somalis are one of the few communities where men have retained their dignity. When a Somali man holds court with his peers, he does so in the dash, reclined in soft pillows, sitting on colorful makekas or carpets. If you come from central Kenya, dash  is the equivalent of a ‘thingira’.The Italians call it a ‘gazebo’. Forget the different names-it’s a structure where men go to gossip away from their wives earshot.

We were welcomed to the dash by amiable local folks. It was around lunch hour. The men did their ritual ablutions and did the Islamic prayers. I stood there on the makeka, whispering a silent prayer for the safe passage to this place. The Chiefs wife brought us some water to wash our hands in readiness for lunch. Finally, the lady of the house served the men with a mountain of camel meat and pasta and rice.Ndururu jokingly told us that we were the guests of honour and so we would be served something better.

The moment that chicken was laid before us, our taste buds went into riot.Yeah, one violent mid-semester riot by UoN students when they are church-mouse broke. The mountainous serving was meant for me and my colleague-the only non-locals. All that food for just two souls? You see the way they have made eating lots of meat look so bad-like pre-marital sex? Well, those middle-class things aren’t here yet-so we ate.

Thus the Somali men settled on the makeka to feast on camel meat while my colleague and me-the visitors from Kenya-dug on the chicken. Or chickens rather because I tried to count the drum sticks but lost count. We ate our delicious meal in silence-the whole village watching these two poor souls who are ungracious enough to feed on some boy’s pet. You see, amongst the Somalis, a hen is some boys pet.Since they are used to slaughtering one tonne camels for dinner, it looks indecent to slaughter one kilogram cock to make a meal.

When we finished the meal, nay feast, we poured some water onto the plates and drank down the stuff. Nothing was to be wasted. My colleague is generally a small built fellow-but I am sure his weight doubled after the meal. Thereafter, we settled down on the mats, stomachs facing upwards. This was the only tenable sleeping position. To tell the women that the food was good, we burped loudly. In these sides, it’s rude not to do so.

We tried to figure out what kind of chicken we had eaten. I have never eaten that thing they call Kentucky Fried Chicken so I figured it might be the one. But how do you get KFC a thousand miles away from civilization? Again, that thing was too delicious to be a KFC.

Then the Chief’s matronly wife came along to pick the utensils.

‘Maalim,haiye’  Hallo teacher.

In these places, any new person is referred to as teacher.

Mzoori mama.Wafian? I answered back.

Fiante.She answered back. So we had some small talk with her-in Somali mixed with Kiswahili and gestures. When someone whose Swahili isn’t that good speaks to you, you corrupt yours too for politeness sake. They don’t teach that in school though.


‘Kanga alikuwa tamu,waria
?’ She asked us, smiling.

You know how Somali women speak, two fingers in the air to emphasize a point? In short, she was asking us, did you enjoy the guinea fowl?I didn’t have a ready answer for that. I nudged my colleague, who was now sleeping beside me, dreaming of some guinea fowl heaven.

Wee,mundu,Madam is asking us whether we enjoyed the chicken.

Mwambie kama imebaki atufungie. He replied.Then burped again.

That’s how Mansa gave us food for thought (pun intended) about Kentucky Fried Guinea Fowl.

 

 

A DRUM MAJOR FOR NURSES

There may be a thousand novels about swashbuckling pirates. Another two thousand novels about women of the night, and another three thousand more about conniving politicans.But there are very few books about nurses. Nursing is one of the most unsung professions. So today, we will be the Drum Major for nurses across the world. This being Nursing Week, we beat our drums to the queens of scrubs and princesses with syringes. We chose to be drum majors for nurses since they answer to human beings ubiquitous cry for lacteal treatment. In this our inaugural post, here at Drum Major blog, we chose to be a drum major for nurses who work in headquarters of illnesses and capitals of infirmary.

There are a few novels that feature  a nurse as a major protagonist. One of them is The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. A teary tragic love story that traces the intersection of four damaged lives: that of Hana the exhausted nurse,Carbaggio the maimed thief, Kip the Sikh and the English Patient himself. The last is a burned up nameless character whose memories of passion, betrayal and rescue illuminate this book like flashes of lighting. The novel was adapted into a movie in 1996 by the same name.

There are movie scenes. Then there are eternal movies scenes. The last scene in the movie, in which Hana the nurse features prominently, falls in the category of eternal movie scenes.

Hana is a 20 year old nurse who takes excellent care of her patients. She has learnt that she should not get emotionally attached to her patients as she has seen too many soldiers die. Suddenly, she gets news that his father got burned and died. She suffers an emotional breakdown since she was close to her dad-like most girls are.

When a nameless patient, all burned up and wrapped in bandages turns up at the hospital, Hana plays the ideal nurse. She nurses his wounds and provides him with morphine. She even gets him a tot of whiskey when he can’t sleep.Ok, I made that up. Since they don’t know his name and he looks like he is from England, they call him the English Patient. The English Patient represents to Hana a pure image, a saint like man with ‘hipbones like Christ’. By projecting the noble images onto the blank identity of the English Patient, Hana builds innocent and childlike dreams.

Hana provides comfort to the English patient which he could not provide to his late father. Towards the end, Hana is so much in love with the patient that when the hospital is abandoned, she refuses to leave, staying with her patient. Nurses are, after all, human. Made of flesh and blood, like all of us.

Towards the end, Hana reads some lines to the English Patient from a letter from his previous love Katherine. In a patho packed scene that captures the frailty of life and the triumph of love, Hana reads the letter in teary haunting voice. The English Patient lay on his death bed, half listening half dreaming, his eyes all blank like potholes to hell:

My darling, I’m waiting for you…..We die, we die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers, fears we have hidden in, like this wretched cave. We are the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you will come and carry me out into the palace of winds. That’s all I’ve wanted — to walk in such a place with you, with friends, on earth without maps…

 

As we come to the end of the above lines, The English Patient takes an eternal pose, the scene taking a surreal look. Even the coldest Philistine sheds a tear or two after watching this oh so elevated scene.

Nurse Hana epitomizes all that is challenging about nursing. Sacrifices, contradictions and above all, selfless service. Nurses work in sterile, antiseptic conditions, with distinctive medical smells. Smells with the underlying reek of death beneath them. We cannot help the smells in hospitals. Just like we cannot help classes from the smell of chalk dust and garages from the smell of diesel and oils. Every trade has its smells.

Nurses work with the sounds of sirens of ambulances jabbing the night air. They work in hospitals with clocks tolling to the death or near death of patients, clocks tolling for you and me .We cannot help some of these things. Every trade has its sounds.

You know how they categorize Shakespeare’s plays? If it ends with a wedding, it’s a comedy. If it ends with a funeral, it’s a tragedy. Nurses work where the greatest tragedy of life-death-takes place. At the same time, they work where the most magical event in human life-birth-takes place. It’s only in hospitals where roses of life blossom along dreadful black lilies of death, side by side. It takes great courage to work were vampires of death flap above, threatening to build nests in one’s head. But one takes consolation in that angels of life abound in the same hospitals, doing high fives to life.

Nurses demystify hospitals and diseases. Unlike doctors who approach patients with clinical aloofness, nurses approach patients with a human face. When the doctor tells you have glaucoma, he puts no emotion in it.He says it with a monologue and statue face that expresses neither hope nor despair. You start fretting whether glaucoma is a disease that started in Hiroshima when the bombed it and is related to carcinoma since they rhyme. You start fearing that your life will soon end in coma since the word glaucoma ends with ‘coma’ in it.Doctors, in short, put walls between their patients and the science of medicine.

A nurse, on the other hand, breaks those barriers. When you mention glaucoma, a nurse humanizes the disease for you. When you give her the signed chit from the doctor-all scrawls and scribbles-she demurely smiles at you. So I am not that sick, after all? Then she takes a stethoscope and eavesdrops on the silent soliloquy of your vital organs. She touches you with her fingers, looking for a vein, looking for healing. Like a man pulling out from a dazed coma, you start getting well already .Then, she talks to you.

 

Ati which condition did Dr.Odiambo say you have?

Coma of the eyes.

Coma of the eyes?  You mean glaucoma?

Yes, yes, that one. Nurse, how many days do I have in this troubled world?

Wewe wacha zako. You see that mzee over there?
The one with one eye patched up?

Yes, that one. We operated on him for glaucoma last week, blind as a bat. Look, now he is already ogling at me.Men!

 

Then she proceeds to show that feigned annoyance women show when a man makes a pass at them.

That marks the end of your beautiful scene with a nurse, just like the one above between Hana and her English Patient. Like in the movie, she has led you to a palace of winds. Then by the hand and by the heart, she will nurture you back to good health, one syringe at a time. She makes you face another day-you are even ready to face a coma if it comes along.

Nurses spread the milk of human kindness where it is needed most.

 

 

PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION

It goes without saying, digital natives have chronic addiction to their phones and by extension social media. Our children are held hostage to blinking screens tweeting, Whatsapping or Facebooking.In more ways than one, they are victims of technology.

While we were growing up, we only had one social media -the outside. We played football in dusty village lanes. We watched movies in primary school fields and met our first loves in highs school games. On the other hand, our children play Candy Crush on phones and watch movies on phones .They also meet their first love on the phone in an online dating site. This is most likely a Nigerian scammer or a pedophile hiding behind a screen.

The children spend their day uploading selfies that all look the same. You would think Facebook pays them to do so.They populate acres and acres of Instagram with photos of their bums which still have a whiff of pampers from their childhood. To them, any event which is not uploaded on some media site and liked, shared or retweeted didn’t not happen.

Many parents have no idea how to protect their children from addiction to social media. Some are too busy in their daily work to protect their children. Others, especially the relatively young Gen Xers,are also addicted  to the their own smart phones.However,there are trusted way that work in protecting children from mindless addiction to social media.

FIVE GUARANTEED WAYS OF PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION

  1. CONTROL THE PHONE

Take control of the phone and install parent control programs. Some of these are Teen safe, My Guardian, Phone Sheriff etc. These are Android based apps and will help navigate your child from harmful sites.

hhttp://www.phonesheriff.com/

http://www.phonesheriff.com/

  1. NET WORK BLOCKING

Block all those sites that you detect your child is addicted to .Also block him or her from dangerous sites and thus protect him from dangerous elements like scammers, child pornographers, identity thieves  cyber bullies et c.

https://support.opendns.com/hc/en-us/articles/227988047-Web-Content-Filtering-and-Security

https://www.howtogeek.com/201312/how-to-use-opendns-on-your-router-pc-tablet-or-smartphone/

  1. GIVE THE CHILDREN ALTERNATIVES TO SMART PHONES

Know your children’s interests and pamper them. Buy your boy a dirt bike that will distract him all day and leave him with little energy to chat all night. Buy your daughter some chic lit books that will keep her hooked all day. Who knows-she might improve her pathetic grammar. You might even find that some of these alternatives are cheaper than a smart phone.

  1. USE THE PHONE MORE CONSTRUCTIVELY

If your son is inclined to photography, motivate him to join a Facebook group of photography. If your daughter loves cooking, let her blog about it.That way, the time spent on Social media will be worthwhile as opposed mindless addiction.

  1. TECH FREE SPACES

Most Silicon Valley executives send their children to tech free schools. They believe that a child should first read Romeo and Juliet before they learn how to play Candy Crush. While it may not be possible to have absolutely tech free spaces, it would be good to direct your child to tech free spaces like churches, football pitches, nature sanctuaries, swimming pools etc.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/dec/15/schools-approach-to-mobile-phones-varies-widely-in-uk

Internet is broken. Its teeming with paedophiles, scammers and identity thieves. Sadly, it’s here to stay with us for a long time to come. Applying the above ways that work will go some way in protecting children who are increasing getting addicted to blinking screens at the expense of their eyes, education and life.