MY SISTERS, CHAPATIS AND I

sisters

Today, the third Saturday of September, is Celebrate Your Sister(s) Day. It’s not marked in red in the calendars because calendars are made by men but that doesn’t mean that this good day doesn’t exist. Most good days are not marked in the calendar anyway. So today I am celebrating my sisters-those dainty fairies of my childhood that can never be lost in me.

I am sure when my sisters read this, they will smile since they know where I have added the decorations. And that’s the thing about sisters-you can’t lie to them about your childhood. They know you since when you were eating mud and chasing after ladybirds beetles thinking they are edible because they are beautiful and thus would go well with the mud you were eating. You can kid the world but not your sisters.

I arrived in this world only to find my elder sister had gotten there before me.As I grew up I always considered myself to be older than her. I was in that age when one wants to look older. I no longer do that since I am in that age when one wants to appear younger-despite the silver strands on my temples. My second sister came later-blessing  me with my first girl to beat other boys over. When you have two sisters, you wonder how other boys who do not have them survive. Who washes their clothes? To whom do they tell those fancy boyish stories that leave sisters starry-eyed? Oh, to be a without a sister as boy is a serious handicap that the government needs to address.

My sisters were the same-caring, yet different, for each cared for me in her own way. While one cared whether I had eaten, the other cared about whether I had taken my yucky Scott’s Emulsion. They were like flowers from the same garden. They were close to each other, yet afar from each other. Like pillars of a house, they worked best when they were neither near nor far away from each other.

Boys don’t necessarily have something to say to each other. They can sit in a room, silently together and be comfortable with each other. Apart from occasional grunts and mmhhs, they can be silent for hours on end, just scratching their dry knees. But sisters are different. They speak unceasingly and when they exhaust their daily word quota, they use a language of snarls and smiles and frowns and winks. Then for no reason, they get mad at each other and switch to snorts and sighs and sniffs and sobs then hold on to pillows till they sleep their heads off. Then they wake up the following day and hug like they are meeting for the first time. You can’t doubt me such is the kind of sisters I grew up with.

My elder sister still speaks to me with that I-changed –your-nappies-in-1982-attitude.My kid sister, on the other hand, still views me with that I-will-tell-you- on-mom-that-you-pinched-Ovaltine-look. The thing about women is that they never forget. You see, a sister will forgive you for never repaying her hard-earned cash, but she will never forgive you because you stole Madhivani biscuits from the pockets of her maxi dress  in Christmas of 1985 when she was four.

Seasons came and went. We grew from wearing Pepe jeans to box haircuts. Hormones came along-messing our faces with pimples and our hearts with cravings. My sisters saw it right to be washing my clothes-women have a natural inclination to nurture men around them.Happens especially if they are hunky Adonis like I was in my teens. I am still hunky but today’s post is about my sisters-not me. But they didn’t wash my clothes because they cared a lot for me.They did it because no girl wants to labelled the sister to that dirty boy.

When sisters wash your clothes for you, they start playing your mother. They scold you about how dirty your shirts are, or how unruly your hair is.One day, when one of my sisters was rummaging through my pile of unwashed laundry, she gave me my first lesson in foresight:

It’s always good to wear clean underwear, she started. I ignored the fact that she was implying that I wore dirty underwear. Most boys in Form Two did so anyway.

Where did you read that from-Mills and Boons or Jackie Collins? I asked her.
She smacked her lips. It was in the early 90’s and eye rolling hadn’t been invented then.
I said it’s always good to wear clean underwear! She hit back emphatically.
Ok. Why? I asked.
You never know when you will get an accident. She said triumphantly. Sisters are there to point out the things the rest of the world is too polite to mention.
Or a date….I added cheekily. She sneered, then broke into that you-are-so-naughty-laughter. Women will always enjoy a risqué’ joke, but pretend not to, though their bodies say otherwise.

Then pimples went and we cleared high school and I went to campus .Having sisters became more fun-nothing beats having sisters to tell those macho campus folklore which they don’t realize are silly since women like being told truth with some embellishments.What’s the good of news if you haven’t a sister to share it with? I loved telling them about the end of the world conspiracies after September 11.I watched them cry when I told them the world will crash with the Millennium bug-which didn’t happen. I tried hard being a man to them; they tried hard to keep up with my well-crafted cock and bull stories.

My sisters were blooming to women too. One of the signs of coming of age then was a girl being allowed to cook chapatis.My sisters rolled their first dough as I watched. I watched them graduate from making chapatis the shape of Kenya to square ones. Then they graduated from making oval chapatis to round ones. When they mastered the process, they started embellishing them with pumpkins the way Picasso would embellish his paintings with strokes of yellow. They had come of age.

Thus one day, I came home and was served chapatis. I was a Sociology Major in campus and reading Dialectical Materialism and Existentialism and Utilitarianism and thus walked with my head held high. Yes, the chapatis were perfect round, but harder than granite. With my campus insolence, I asked my mom who among her daughters was trying to kill me-an upcoming great scholar -with granite hard chapatis.

They are here, ask them. My mom, ever the cool matriarch, told me.I ignored the chapatis and ate the ndengu stew only and then went on to say that those chapatis could only be digested by a ruminant. Nobody answered me but since I was reading the fiery works of Karl Marx and Jean Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, I had no one to fear. Beware the silence of women-it talks louder than words.

I forgot about the incidence until one night when I came home to find the whiff of chapati all over the compound like the smell of overripe fruits in an orchard. My younger sister then served me a plate of ndengu stew and went back to the kitchen.
Where are the chapatis? I asked.
My two sisters held their hands across her chest at the same time like something they had practiced on all day. They looked at me, all silent, like Sisters from the Sorority of Silence. When they decided to speak, it hit hard.
But you aren’t a ruminant, are you? They answered back in unison with a triumphant glee. My mother crocheted furiously. My elder sister pretended to be reading her Drum magazine to keep from bursting with laughter. The younger one flipped through the pages of a Pacesetter novel like a major who had just won a battle. I was alone.

When women conspire to teach a man a lesson, nothing can save him. More so if you are a young man still wet behind the years and yet to know they ways of the female species. It took the intervention of my mother, an old aunt and some coaxing to be put back on my kid sisters chapatis serving list.

If man wont learn about womankind from his sisters, nobody will ever teach him about it.

The media wants us to believe that the only significant relationship we have in our lives is the romantic one. Yet sisterhood is the one that will last longer than any other. A sister will share with you the scents and smells of childhood and later their memories as you sit together in the evening verandas of your lives.Sisters are, in  a way, like best friends you can never get rid of.

Mpesa your sister(s)  a token of love today-if you can.

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.