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.

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 those beasts of burden. 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 from our village 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 learned 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 of the hair. An eagle picked the hairs and built a nest with them. In our place, when such a thing happened, the nuts in one’s head went loose. Thus Balaam was the unstable type, always teetering between normalcy and madness. But there was a 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 for that. 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 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. Sunday school kids would find him there 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 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 death of Mzee Jomo. 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, Balaam 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 at 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.

 

 

I WILL KEEP BROKEN THINGS

img src="puppy.jpg" alt="broken thing pan">

Yesterday I stumbled upon my late mother’s retired frying pan.

It looks dejected, with rust erupting from it like a bad rash. Streaks of oxides run across it like ancient tears. Before it got to this state, how many chapattis had it churned? How many rumbling stomachs of hungry village boy had it made glad? How many hearts did this frying pan touch before it got broken?

Alice Walker, the Black American poet talks of keeping broken things. Things whose beauty is that don’t ever need any fixing. Things that remind us of someone who is forever dear to us. In my house there remains an honored shelf on which I will keep broken things. I will keep this broken frying pan which always reminds me of my late mother. I will keep her.

We all have that thing, that family heirloom, which reminds us of our mother if she went to be with the Lord. It may be a physical thing like my broken frying pan above. It may be a whiff of Lady Gay pomade which she used to wear every morning. It may an old sepia photo of her in Afro and bell bottoms, like a girl groupie from the 70s.

We all keep such things in our houses, our hearts and minds, not because they are new, but because they are broken. But above all, because we are broken by the loss of our loved ones which they remind us of.

We keep broken things because we are pilgrims of sorrow hanging on to broken things that need not ever be fixed.

 

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.