LITTLE MONEY,LITTLE COMFORT

The first time I came for training in Machakos town is a day that will always live in infamy in my memory.I had arrived from Garissa, smelling of camels, goats, and other bovids.

I took a late supper at Ikuuni Hotel then asked a boda guy where I could get good accommodation. The young chap answered that he knew a lodge which could host a man of my stature comfortably for the night. By stature, he meant a man who looked like a hippie because as said earlier,I was still smelling of cows.

We found ourselves at a place with a decrepit neon sign that read ‘Susana Lodge’ or something. After paying Ksh 150 for my room, troubles started. First, the claustrophobic room smelt of boiled fish. The bed looked like an abandoned nest of a bird of carrion. The walls-grimy and plastered with remnants of sin- reminded me of a forgotten dungeon. But since it was late and I was broke, I had few options.

I was handed a towel that was rougher than an uncured ox hide and was the size of a handkerchief. I realized that the only practical way of wearing it was by covering the engine leaving the boot exposed- which is what I did. But who cared about an exposed scrawny boot with tufts of hair?

I hid my phone in one of my shoes and my wallet under the bed. A lacy grimy piece of lingerie lay there, like the flag of a conquered kingdom. Then I headed to the communal bathroom, wearing slippers that were harder than wooden clogs. Those things must have been used by Chief Kivoi in his trips to the coast to sell ivory.

The ancient bucket that was provided poured half of the water along the way. But bigger troubles were on the way. After tucking in, the guy next door started snoring like an overturned tractor. Snores so loud that they made things around rattle. At some point, I thought we were sharing a room.

As I lay in the bed that was harder than a horse stable, some rhythmic creaking of beds across the room caught my attention. The creaking increased in speed, accompanied by some sultry soundtrack until it hit a crescendo, followed by a slump. Or plateau. But I am only describing creakings though. Let’s just say that what this tarty place lacked in looks, it made up for in exciting soundtracks.

When the creakingthlon( or fires rather) cooled down and sleep assailed me, I was woken up by a thousand itches all over my body.I was surprised since I had a mosquito net on. Alarmed,I put the lights on. An army of fat bedbugs was marching all over my torso, munching away with gusto.I am sure that pesky dudus had already taken a pint or two of my blood. And why is it that when they bite you one feels so cold? I don’t get it.

When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I went to the watchman and told him that my room had one thousand kungunis.’

Pesa kidogo, laa( raha) kidogo.’He answered gruffly, scratched himself here and there then went back to sleep. But ‘raha’ is relative, seeing there was a couple having lots it of across the next room.

Luckily, when I crept back to my room, another creakathlon- louder than a tractor ploughing- had just started in the neighbouring room.

THE SECOND ANNOINTING

I am reliably informed that a certain Wagithomo lass has had her nude videos and photos leaked into the public- triggering a hormonal tumult among menfolk.But since I am junior elder, I have neither interest nor intention to watch that leaked nudity.

I am told that in the video she had nothing on, not even the radio.But despite all these temptations, I wont watch it.It’s a ‘mugiro’ punishable by a fine of several goats for a junior elder to enjoy such conjugal indecency.

Men who are less morally grounded like yours truly have been going gaga over her ‘au naturel’ features. Her curves which rival those of a Murang’a countryside have given many men sleepless nights. Some have even been seen zooming on her photos. It’s what’s hidden that men are always interested in.

Some men have been calling her ‘mboga kienyeji‘ which I am made to believe alludes to her folksy looks and rawness. But since I haven’t watched that clip, I will let that slide.

Other men have been analyzing her, describing her anointing in glowing terms. Others have been decrying her lack of some critical part, the way you’d say a chicken you slaughtered didn’t have a ‘kaigangiu’ or gizzard. When you bare all, guys start analyzing you like a quartered cow hanging in a butcher’s shop. In a way, people kill you.

But let’s for once assume that that Wagithomo girl is my uncle’s daughter.Over Christmas, she lands in the village in those tiny cars Nairobi girls hire to wow villagers.The cars that run on three AAA batteries like remote controls.

Aunty Jerusha- the pious lady who ends every sentence with ‘mwathani agoocwo’-have already gotten wind of her daughter’s unChristian exploits in the city. So she is waiting for her- like my people say- like a bus. But my analogue uncle is clueless about it all.

‘Thuthana ndoiga guku ndurarara!’Susan you won’t sleep here! Aunty shrieks at Susan as she sashays towards the house, her angel-white dress with a thousand frills lighting up the way.

‘Kwani nime-do?’ Susana asks, lifting her cosmopolitan shades and placing them on her forehead.After a short altercation, uncle appears with a machete in hand, wanting to know the cause of the ruckus.

Si ni mom anazusha juu ya ile vida yangu ilitrend.Hajui vile imeleta likes kwa channel yangu ya Youtube na pale Instagram’. She tells her dad in that nasalized Swahili characteristic of Nairobi girls.

Uncle, removes a half-smoked stub of kiraiko from behind his ear, lights it up and for five minutes tries to digest what he has heard.

He finally asks her_Have you brought your mother some sugar?’ The girl nods and waves 5kg of Mumias sugar she bought at Maguna’s supermarket in Muranga town. Plus a bale of unga and other foodstuffs. The last time uncle saw such heavy shopping was during the coffee boom days.

Make some tea for the guest.Uncle tells aunty.Its actually an order since he says it while pointing his machete at her.The now smiling video vixen then greases a well folded brown note into uncle’s palm.

‘Daddy,we are soldiering on in the big city’.Susana tells his dad, acting up daddy’s girl.

‘Strive on by any means; money is money.’Uncle answers back with one of his many truisms. The daddy’s girl interprets that ‘money is money line to mean that she can make another primal video to trend.

All of you who enjoyed the debut video, Wagithomo Reloaded is coming soon. The second anointing, if you like, is on the way.

CARS THAT ‘WERENT SUCKLED ENOUGH’

Here’s some free advice to my My Murang’a folks:don’t dare borrow those matchbox-sized cars to wow your village mates this Christmas. Our ruthless hills will break up those small thingies, such that it will end in blood, sweat, and jeers.

Last year, my cousin borrowed such a car to show the village that she is now a single, upwardly mobile independent woman. So together with her 1GB girlfriends, they hit the road to Murang’a, big sunglasses hinged on their shiny foreheads. Plus boxes of pizza on the laps.

The car served them well up to Kenol town. But when they started climbing hills at Mukangu, its 120cc engine overheated. Someone suggested they buy it a lollipop, but that didn’t stop its radiator cap from coming off since it’s held together with safety pins.

At that steep climb towards Kahuhia Girls, the windscreen which is fastened by staples came of. Two Brazil wigs flew through the window, leaving two ‘miss independents’ looking like muchunu hens.

Past Koimbi market, the chrome tyres screeched as they climbed another gargantuan hill. One of them came off since they are fastened by chewing gum. Luckily some nduthi guys in shining armour and smelly overcoats came to the rescue of the damsels in distress.

When the girlfriends later arrived home sans wigs sans happiness, they car saw another hill brooding like a giant ahead.It’s road was slippery than a tongue.On the car’s dashboard, a red light started blinking: ‘no road ahead’.

Various efforts by Maina Makanika to coax it to move didn’t help. So the girlfriends had to heave the shopping they did at Magunas onto their heads. Which didn’t help much since the same heads contained more Guaranas than grey matter. When Maina noted that the car ran on AAA batteries like a remote, he gave up on it.

When my auntie saw the car or what had remained of it, she smothered it with a mbocori to ward of the evening chill lest it caught pneumonia. My uncle, on the other hand, wasn’t very kind to the diminutive contraption:

‘Gaka kang’othi gationgithirio kuigana’,he quipped. This minuscule car was not suckled enough.

BANANA DRAMA

My uncle will never interrupt you when you are making a fool of yourself. The other day, I paid them a visit and found uncle feeding his cows and aunty knitting a multi-colored kiondo as usual.

Now, aunty is this kind pious soul who finishes every sentence with ‘mwathani agocwo’.God be praised. If she won’t be in heaven, then nobody is going there.

After enquiring about all my children, their classes, height etc, she dashed into her sooty kitchen and came back with a melamine plate full of githeri. Real githeri cooked in an earthenware pot.

Then she went into her granary and came back with a bunch of ‘wang’ae’ or sweet bananas. Her bananas are ripened by catalyzing with ‘meenû’, an aromatic shrub that gives them a distinctive flavour.

Now, one of the exotic culinary habits that I picked in my expansive sojourn in Northern Kenya is mixing ripe bananas with my food. Go to any Waria hotel and you will see them doing it.

So I peeled two bananas, cut them into pieces and mixed with the githeri. The interplay of the tastes of the sugary banana and the salted githeri is something to die for.

All the while, uncle was watching me keenly with increasing dread, slowly taping his sharp machete on his palm. All his life, he has never seen a grown man mix githeri with ripe bananas.

When I took my first bite, he tightened the grip on his machete. When I took the second one, he tightened the grip further. Finally, he could stand it no more.

‘Ira muruguo kiria aragucia nikiramuthukira!’He barked at aunty. Tell this your son that what he has been smoking is not doing him any good.

Then, he angrily ran his sharp machete against the whetting stone before sauntering of to Wakulima Bar.

THE SECOND ANNOINTING

I am reliably informed that a certain Wagithomo lass has had her nude videos and photos leaked into the public- triggering a hormonal tumult among menfolk. But since I am junior elder, I have neither interest nor intention to watch that leaked nudity.

I am told that in the video she had nothing on, not even the radio. But despite all these temptations, I won’t watch it.It’s a ‘mugiro‘ punishable by a fine of several goats for a junior elder to enjoy such conjugal indecency.

Men who are less morally grounded like yours truly have been going gaga over her ‘au naturel’ features. Her curves which rival those of a Murang’a countryside have given many men sleepless nights. Some have even been seen zooming on her photos. It’s what’s hidden that men are always interested in.

Some men have been calling her ‘mboga kienyeji’ which I am made to believe alludes to her folksy looks and rawness. But since I havent watched that clip, I will let that slide.

Other men have been analyzing her, describing her anointing in glowing terms. Others have been decrying her lack of some critical part, the way you’d say a chicken you slaughtered didn’t have a ‘kaigangiu’ or gizzard. When you bare all, guys start analyzing you like a quartered cow hanging in a butcher’s shop. In a way, people kill you.

But let’s for once assume that that Wagithomo girl is my uncle’s daughter. Over Christmas, she lands in the village in those tiny cars Nairobi girls hire to wow villagers. The cars that run on three AAA batteries like remote controls- but I digress.

Aunty Jerusha- the pious lady who ends every sentence with ‘mwathani agoocwo’-have already gotten wind of her daughter’s unsavory exploits in the city. So she is waiting for her- like my people say- like a bus. But my analogue uncle is clueless about it all.

‘Thuthana ndoiga guku ndurarara!’

Susan you wont sleep here! Aunty shrieks at Susan as she sashays towards the house, her angel-white dress with a thousand frills lighting up the way.

‘Kwani nime-do?’ Susana asks, lifting her cosmopolitan shades and placing them on her forehead. After a short altercation, uncle appears with machete in hand, wanting to know the cause of the ruckus:

‘Si ni mom anazusha juu ya ile vida yangu ilitrend.Hajui vile imeleta likes kwa channel yangu ya Youtube na pale Insta?’She tells her dad in that nasalized Swahili characteristic of Nairobi girls.

Uncle, removes a half smoked stub of kiraiko from behind his ear, lights it up and for five minutes tries to digest what he has heard.

‘Niwarehere mamiguo cukari?‘ He finally asks her.’ Have you brought your mother some sugar?’ The girl nods and waves 5kg of Mumias sugar she bought at Maguna’s super market in Muranga town. Plus, a bale of unga and other foodstuffs. The last time uncle saw such a heavy shopping was during the coffee boom days.

‘Rugira mugeni caai.’ Make some tea for the guest. Uncle tells aunty. Its actually an order since he says it while pointing his machete at her.

The now smiling video vixen then greases a well folded brown note into uncle’s palm.

‘Noturageria muthee kuria gicuka’ Daddy, we are soldiering on in the big city. She tells him, acting up daddy’s girl.

‘Ethaai, gutire mbeca ngarange’.

‘Strive on by any means; money is money.’

Uncle answers back with one of his many truisms. Then he squints at his kabambe and calls Mukuna the bar man:

‘Munene, wekerea tumbukiza kiro moja nakuja.’

The daddy’s girl interprets that ‘money is money’ line to mean that she can make another primal video to trend.

All of you who enjoyed the debut video,Wagithomo Reloaded is coming soon. The second anointing, if you like, is on the way.

I am sure some of you have been wondering what happened to my panga uncle.I too was wondering why the punny kinsman of mine has been so quiet.Until he called me last week.

Mundu wa Njambi‘ he started.My uncle will rarely hail anybody by his or her name.Instead,he uses his own customized nomeclature.

‘Woiga mbura yurire thi? ‘ You want all these rain to end without you having planted anything?

In my community, maternal uncles are king.When one summons you, you go there running.It is believed that if he scratches his navel because you made him angry, a big calamity will befall you.In short, that’s how I found myself home last weekend.

I found uncle at Mukuna’s, a milk jerrican by side.The jolly old man still looks dapper- his suede godfather hat accentuating his suave retired city dandy image.

He slaps me with an instant fine of 5 Balozis and a kilo of tumbukiza.Giceeri, the greasy maitre’ d at Mukuna’s who prepares your tumbukiza but eats half of it while its cooking and half of it with you fixes for us a nice tumbukiza.

‘Eat, son, eat.’ My uncle cajoles me as we eat and try to outdo Giceeri in eating our tumbukiza.

‘Ikuria ti ndwaru’. One who eats heartily is not sick. Uncle says amidst loud chewing.

‘Guku thi no ndia na mahoya’.He says to no one in particular.The most important things in this world now are eating and prayers.I dont know where uncle gets this punchy one liners. But when you analyze them in the context of corona epidemic, they are true

When we’ve had our fill and burped loudly,we bid Mukuna the host goodbye .Then melt into the chilly Murang’a night- uncle’s machete shining like a chalice.

We have hardly done a kilometre when uncle breaks into a song.A long forgotten folk tune about a girl called Njoki from Iyego and her heroic exploits at the battle of Ndaka-ini during Mau Mau war.

At Mukarara shopping center, we are accosted by cops who wants to know why uncle is singing banned liberation songs after curfew hours.

‘Ikuina ti ndwaru‘ He tells the cops.

He who who sings is not sick.I have to bribe the cops for myself and my uncle.Uncle’s bribe is double because of his insolence.As we part, he tells the cops:

‘Ikuria ti ndwaru‘. One who eats heartily is not sick.A jibe at the cops ‘eating’ ways.

The cops ignore him and drive of their Landruiser to go and eat the bribe just acquired.Uncle and I then wades of into the night like two errant knights returning from a failed crusade.

Lawd knows how much I had missed this eclectic kinsman of mine.

EAT MAN,EAT!

I have not taken a break all this year. Been slaving all year like a horse- because there was a lot to be done.Sometimes even working at night- because there was a lot to do be done.

Until I got indisposed and had one foot in the grave and had to take a two-week break from work. Then I realized that ‘my work’ has been going on seamlessly in my absence. Maybe even better- who knows.

No one is indispensable.We will all one day leave our desks- and by extension our stations in life.But that wont stop things from going on.

Other critical lessons that I learnt during the sick leave:

1.Self diagnosis, treatment and discharge is one of the reasons why men die young.See a medic when sick.

2.One cant die from skipping Whitecap one full weekend.Its all in the mind.

3.Getting sick is like waking up. You can wake up 10,000 times but still never get used to it. It will always surprise you.

4.All the bland food is the healing food.Uji, greens,pumpkin soup, name it.Use them even when not sick.

5.Always have a trusted uncle who you can dictate to your verbal will since we African men don’t write wills. You can never know when they will call you over to the other side.

6.Eat well and heartily when you can.When you get sick and lose 5kg when you are 80kg, nobody will notice.But wait till you lose 5kg when you are 45kg-they will bury you alive.Eat man, eat!

KIMATHI @100

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

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

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

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

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

NB:

I have no rights to the image.

CASTOR SEED GENERATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SICKER THAN US(PART 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mwenga!’

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

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

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

Truly, he was sicker than us.