For some time now, the Western world has been trying to figure out why Africans arent dying like flies from Covid- 19.I cant blame them- everyone expects every other calamity to hit Africa hard.But this is not the first time wazungus are wondering why a particular malady insnt killing us by the hundreds as expected.Or planned.
Back in day,when I had knees that stuck out like door knobs, there was this young mzungu who was in a Catholic mission near our home.Some grown up people said he wasnt exactly mzungu but Italiano, but to us boys there was no difference.His nose was so long such that we thought part of it didnt belong to him.Or maybe his teachers had pinched it everyday for it to be that long.His skin was pale like that of a toad that lived on the innerside of banana leaves and never saw the light.My friends and I agreed he was sick.
One Saturday morning, my friends and I were swimming by Kanyiri- the gurgly stream that ran down the gorge where two ridges met like an armpit.The sick white man came jogging from the direction of Kiangunyi Catholic Mission where he was residing.
We definitely knew something was wrong with him.In school, we used to run in June when it was cold. But here was a man running when it was not June. Fine, we weren’t very sure which month it was. But going by the way mangoes hang lowly from the trees, we estimated it must have been January, February or Marchiary.But not June.
Most likely, this pale man was a bad man who was being punished by Fr Nyamu for some mistake by being made to run on early morning.Fr Nyamu was the benevolent padre who headed Kiangunyi Catholic Mission.
Now, when he approached us at the river, he waved at us:’Mwenga?’ He said, smiling.We wondered why he was saying ‘mwenga’ instead of ‘muriega’- the standard greeting.A grown man who couldnt pronounce such a simple word indeed had a problem.We had initially feared him.But since he spoke our language like a small baby, we agreed that he couldnt do much harm to a pack of five boys and their eight dogs-some tame, some stray and some rabid.
When he stopped fearing us and came nearer, he shook the hands of Gatimu,the big boy who could beat the whole Standard Four West.He had repeated class four five times but it didnt matter- he was in our class.We had chosen him to be the first to greet the mzungu just in case he started beating us.Which he didnt.
After greeting us, he finally came to Ragu.Ragu was small, no bigger than a full grown rabbit.His full name was Kiragu.But since he was short, we shortened his name.The shortened name also differentiated him from Kiragu his cousin who was much taller.
Ragu’s ribs jutted out into the air like the roots of tree.His shoulders were like coat hangers.But we didnt care about all that.All we cared for is that he could stealthily steal sugarcanes from Maritha the ever angry old widow without her noticing.In addition to ribs that jutted into the air, Ragu had swellings below the ears that jutted into the air too.His ribs stuck out, his stomach stuck out so we thought it was not odd if the swellings below his ears stuck out too.
‘Bery sick, bery sick’ the sick pale man said after inspecting Ragu with his blue eyes.For sure,we disagreed with that diagnosis.Even our wise dogs disagreed with him.Rather,we knew that this man- with his pale skin and blue eyes and blue veins-was sicker than all of us combined. But we couldnt answer him back in the strange language he spoke through his long nose.
The pale sick man then jogged of uphill- to complete the punishment given to him by the Padre who his host.For the next few Saturdays we swarm as usual.Stole mangoes and guavas too.Munched sugarcanes.But we didnt see him.He must have been scared by ourselves and our thin dogs.
One Saturday morning, he came jogging and found us at the river.We had swam and gotten bored of swimming so we were competing in who could send his jet of urine the furthest- across the stream.’ Muenga!’ He said smiling.Even after being away for so long, he hadnt learnt how to say ‘muriega’ properly.Clearly,this pale man had a problem.
We didnt answer him since we had held our breath so that our jets could fly the furthest across the stream.He waited till we were done with our jetting business which he seemed to enjoy.Instead of admonishing us like our uncle would have done if he had found us at it.
Then he inspected Ragu and found that the swelling under his ears were now bigger.He then inspected all of us and noted that half of us had those swellings.’Mumps.Very bed’. He mumbled, his eyes all sad.He said some prayers and and did a sign of the cross.The way he shook his head- which had hair like maize tassels- clearly meant that soon, we might die.
‘See Sista Immaculate’.He told us.Sister Immaculate was the matronly nurse at the Catholic Mission Hospital. Her sole work was to boil needles and inject anybody with buttocks- however small-who was foolish enough to go to the Hospital.
At the mention of that Sister of the Order of Needles, we picked our clothes, whistled at our trusted dogs and fled downstream where the pale sick man and her sister who loved injecting buttocks couldnt follow us.
( To be continued)