GUEST POST 3 :‘HUSBAND’ FOR HIRE, UP NORTH


By Wangari Wachiuri

I have heard stories of students paying boda boda guys, mama soko and makangas to act as their parents after being suspended from school. But it never crossed my mind that one day I would pay someone to act as someone else to save me.

 Mine is a different story. It was back in 2010 whenI relocated to Garissa-yes, the one in North Eastern Kenya. Accommodation was provided but after the training I decided to get my own house.

My first house hunting was not bad-I easily got a house at a place called Windsor. It was an easy process since the house was owned by a “nywele ngumu’’- a name people from Northern Kenya use to refer to non-locals. One day I went for a holiday and when I got back at around 7pm I was shocked to find my house had anew occupant and most of my household items missing-but that’s story for another day.

After the Windsor experience I started house hunting which ended up at a place called Bura Sheikh which is one of the estates in Garissa town.

 ‘Masichana kidogo,bwana yako iko wapi’? The landlord-a tall man with a bakora whose beard was dyed the colour of Royco asked me.

Hakuna bwana’. I answered him.

 ‘Kama hakuna bwana hakuna nyumba’ He said and went off to the mosque for his magharib prayers swinging his bakora up and down.

 That’s when I discovered I couldn’t get a house because I was a young single lady. I was told that Somali culture doesn’t allow a young lady to live alone let alone rent a house for herself. This was a major obstacle for working single ladies.

 What do I do now? Then the idea of ‘rent a hubby’ crossed my mind. I decided to get one of my friends to play “husband”. But there was a challenge-my friends were too young to convince a landlord with dyed beard and kanzu that he was my husband. When I was about to give up a guy came to say hello to one of our mutual friend’s at the shop we were in. He listened to my story and came up with the idea that I pay him and he could act my husband. I told him since he was a Garissa resident and a stranger, he would act as my brother in law. We agreed on the price and off we went to Bura Sheikh where I had spotted a house.

 We met the landlady and after introductions we told her why we were there. It never crossed my mind that she would ask why I was accompanied by my brother in law and not my husband but she did. I looked at my“brother in law” and saw he had nothing to say. I told her that “my husband”was a cop who had been transferred so I had to move out of the police camp. That lie earned me the house. I escorted my “brother in law” and paid him. I cleaned the house and moved in same day with the few items that I had salvaged from my previous house-my documents, work tools and my clothes. The first night I slept on a curtain on the warm floor with mosquitoes feasting on me.But all in all I slept soundly now that I had a house.

Questions arose when two months passed and “my husband” had not been seen since I moved in. I was beginning to worry but luck was on my side when the land lady left for Dadaab to oversee her projects. She stayed for two weeks and when she came back I gladly told her I had been looking for her to meet “my imaginary husband”. She felt bad for not meeting him but that stopped her from prying into my life. I lied to get the house and to keep the house for the sake of my job.

The other day a friend from Garissa called to ask how my husband is.  I answered her- ‘I imagine he is doing well’.

About Wangari

Wangari shares family names with one of the heroic men who liberated this country-Kimathi Wachiuri.Thus you could say she writes with  bravery.Wangari writes fictional and real life stories and also poetry.When she is not writing,she likes going for game drives and nature walks.She is based in Nyeri Kenya-with lots of travels.

KISUM

Every town has two names.There is the name that appears in Geography books and maps. Then there is the name by which the locals call their town. Thus the windswept town called Isiolo becomes ‘Siolo’ to locals. The ‘I’ is silent. Wajir is Wajeer. Nanyuki becomes Nanyukii to the locals. Kisumu is Kisum.

You know why locals pronounce the names correctly? Because they own the places. A town’s name may be Anglicized or altered by other tongues but its owners stick to its real name. One of the towns whose owners claim vehemently is Kisumu.

You see, its easy to claim Kisumu. For one, unlike Nairobi, Kisumu is not seething with angry masses-people that seem to be running away from something or everything. Kisumu is made up of people who are at home with themselves. Two, the town is guided by a lord mayor called order unlike Nairobi which is lorded over by some unseen mayor called chaos. Nairobi is too chaotic, like a hospice for the moribund. When chaos gets tired of tormenting the world, they hide in Nairobi. I always wonder how that metro survives with no riots breaking out every day.

Every town has a persona that it presents to the traveller.Machakos is an over bleached slay queen in yellow dress trying to catch up with her big sister Nairobi.Nyeri is an old geezer who drives a 1978 Chevrolet pickup. Kisumu is a debonair gentlemen in three piece suit smoking a cigar, taking single malt whiskey, using words like ‘propestrous’ in his speech. You have to like the way sons of lake the take whiskey with religious piety, like its holy communion.

Coming from a place with no large water body, I love going down to Lake Victoria just to watch the lake anytime I am in Kisumu. I love Lake Victoria’s expanse-actually I feel it should be upgraded to a sea.  Or an inland ocean. The little lake ones love is ones biggest ocean. If Dead Sea, which does even support life, is ranked is a sea, then Lake Victoria should be upgraded to a sea too. For the love of Kisumu, we should start a petition to the UN for that upgrade. This would be a good reward to the lake which is always calm, unlike other water bodies which are always moody.

The other day that I found myself in Kisumu I was impressed by the town’s neatness. The town has fully recovered from the elections chaos that rocked the town last year.  Kisumu is one town where I have a free tour guide called Ogallo.Now, Ogallo and I did Literature and Linguistics together in campus. This man Ogallo is a man of letters. He speaks his English with pleasant flow of liquid words, the plosives gliding smoothly over the fricatives, the bilabials dancing gracefully over the alveolars.So much for Linguistics though.

When Ogallo is happy, epithets fall from his mouth. When he is angry, he hurls words around like spears. I always tell him that if he were to insult somebody, his insults could raise blisters on a sensitive skin because they would be so forcefull.But he hardly does that because he is such a refined man.When Ogallo is around me, he speaks in iambic pentameter, like Shakespeare, because he and I are poetry buffs.

Jarabuon, what brings thee to this lacustrine borough?

He asked me as he picked me from the bus stage.Jarabuon means ‘potato people’ his nickname for us from Central Kenya who take every meal, fish included, with Irish potatoes. Lacustrine means ‘having to do with the lake.’ As for borough, you check out the meaning. I am doing too much explaining.

Same old thirst for wisdom. I told him. I had gone to see a certain Professor at Maseno University.

One of the things that irk Ogallo is that I cannot eat fish. His efforts to enlist me into the cult of fish lovers have always failed. So he took me to the Imperial Hotel on Achieng Oneko Road where they serve good fish.

I hear you mountain people boil fish in lots of water then add warus to it.He tells me.

Treat that as a myth, like that of Nyamgondho. I retort back.

We laugh in between the meal. Then we wander off to the myth of Nyamgondho which Ogallo always narrates with gusto, rendering it afresh each time he does so.

Nyamgondho, son of Ombare was a  was poor chap who lived in  Kamuela village in the 14th century .He eked a living by fishing and hawking at Kondele market .When he made enough money he would visit local gin dens then later attend open air ohangala dances.

One day, as Nyamgondho was fishing, he pulled out an ugly one eyed woman from the lake. Nyamgondho wanted to throw her back to the lake, but the ugly woman begged him to keep her and marry her. Being a bachelor who girls avoided owing to his poverty, the idea of having a woman to sweep his simba was welcome To Nyamgondho. Thus he took Nyar Nam-daughter of the lake-home and made her his wife.

Soon, the two settled down and got a lot of wealth.  Nyamgondho named the woman Adikinyi and she bore him many children.Nyamgodho got several other wives and many children. He stopped taking illicit Nubian gin and graduated to single malt millet beer. He started smoking with gold tipped pipes, his tobacco imported all the way from the land of the Ankole. Gradually, Nyamgondho forgot about his humble beginnings and became very proud.

One Saturday evening, Nyamgondho came home drunk and cursing like a Sio Port sailor. His wives refused to open the door for him. Nyamgondho got angry and abused Adikinyi, calling her an ugly old woman. The following morning, Adikinyi headed to the lake, and all of Nyamgondho’s wealth followed her. If you go to Nyamgondho site by the lake, you can see Adikinyis foot prints and the ones left by the livestock as they headed for the lake.

The following day found us at Nyamgondho site which can be accessed by murram road from the lake shore town of Sindo.The site offers a panoramic view of Lake Victoria. Boats lay motionless in the glassy lake, their sails fluttering in the wind like girls silk petticoats. Then a brief zephyr blows from the East, filling the lakes surface with a thousand dimples.

The lake is a woman, a temptress. Ogallo tells me.

The reason why we sons of the lake are romantic is because we learn it from the lake.

He goes on in an enchanted monologue. I keep quiet and stare pensively to indicate to him that what he has said is deep.We sit by the shore watching the liquid soliloquy of the lake, listening to the lake breathing. The waves break on the shores back and forth, like the eternal ebb and flow of human misery. As the sun sets Ogallo hums some lines from the poem Dover Beach. The waves-

 

                Begin and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring,

The eternal note of sadness in.

 

After the Nyamgondho site tour we come back to town where I am to meet my Professor. At any given weekend, Kisumu has the highest concentration of Professors per square mile.

Now, my Professor is one of those unassuming scholars who did His Masters in Leeds, PhD in Cambridge and wears Oxford loafers and always dons a tie with an Oxford knot. When my Professor speaks, scholarship seeps from his mouth.

Great to see you osiepna. He tells me.We are at Kisumu Hotel that is opposite Maseno University Town Campus. After the usual chit chat, I tell him that I have to go out and look for good food.

What is good food?

I want some mukimo and minji.

What is minji? I explain to him what minji looks like.

Oh,you mean Pisum Sativum of the Fabacaea Family! Exclaims Professor in one eureka moment.

There is a Kikuyu lady who does them at Kondele.

So we continue with our chat with the Professor. Men with the rhythm of rhumba in their hips are dancing to some slow music. When Luos do the rhumba, they make it an art.The men have feet that are articulate as poetry, the ladies got hips that sway with coordinated geometry. But wait till hypnotic Ohangla hits the air and everybody dances with the lascivious grace of tango.

Kisumu Hotel is a cozy place with some aristocratic look. The drinks are pricey for a student like me so is their accommodation. I can’t wait to be done with Professor and go out to look for an affordable place plus my beloved mountain food.

Finally, my Prof is about to go. He calls the Hotels Manager and tells him that I am his guest.

This scholar is displaying somnolence .Get him a tranquil place for him to repose his tired torso.

That’s how I spent my night in the marvelous Kisumu Hotel despite its cost.

 

 

WAJIR BY BUS

I always had this hunch that fate would one day nudge me and send me to an exotic place. One day it did that and told me that I had to go to Wajir. So I woke up and told my people: I love you but I have to go. It’s only by going that I can come back and see you with different eyes. Then I traveled to Wajir, stayed a little bit, and respected the place.

I faced some resistance. Those that have never ventured outside their homes are always the first to warn you against going to Northern Kenya. It’s the same in life-those that have never ventured on a journey are always the ones vehemently warning you against undertaking it.

Then, one morning, with the resolute determination of a lioness with ten mouths to feed, I packed my things and left –for Wajir.

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The grueling 700km 12-hour bus journey to Wajir begins with a good meal. It happens that all the Northern Kenya bound buses are based in Eastleigh-that delightfully chaotic suburb of Nairobi. You can’t sit in an Eastleigh hotel without bumping into a retired Kismayu pirate who came to launder his money here.But they don’t curse or drunkenly sing ‘fifteen men on a dead man’s chest and a bottle of rum’. They are gentle pirates who smile genuinely as they tell you ‘waria hii suit ni genuine kutoka Turkey’. Eastleigh is also never short of majestic men with beards dyed the colour of Royco thumbing prayer beads-as they swing their bakoras with majestic grandeur. Real men.

The bus conductor is a lanky fellow who keeps brushing his shiny teeth with a bush toothbrush. Karibu mageni.He tells me cheerfully as he ushers me into the bus. It’s only in Eastleigh that you are ushered into a bus that way.

Tutafika lini? I ask him.

Kesho inshallah. He answers back.

What he is implying is that the journey to Wajir is an overnight ordeal that needs Allah for guidance. I settle in my seat in the scented bus and watch Eastleigh chaos ebb like a sea getting calm for the night. A young man who seemingly has never gone to Wajir is saying kwaheri to his young family. His young wife and their two kids hug the man so tight-you could think he is going to Pluto. Goodbyes are such sweet sorrows.

My seatmate is a Mzee called Galgalo who speaks two Swahili words, ten Somali words aided with wild gesticulations and assumes that I get what he is saying. But we get along well he is such a jovial soul despite the language barrier. Galgalo hangs his bakora in the seat in front of him, spreads his miraa on his laps, and starts chewing noisily. I take out an old black book-Langston Hughes Complete Poetry Anthology-and get engrossed in the Harlem Poetry therein. At Pangani he offers me some miraa twigs which I refuse politely. At Thika Mzee Galgalo turns to me and says:

Wewe Kukuyu,sio?

Ndio abo. Abo is Somali for father.

Kukuyu mazuri sana-watu ya biashara kama waria.

Kweli yake.

And so we have our little chit-chat with Mzee Galgalo in broken Swahili mixed with Somali. Rules of language dictate that when you are talking with someone who doesn’t understand a language well, you downsize yours. They don’t teach that in school.

We are now at Kithyoko .Mzee Galgalo commands the conductor to stop the bus so that he can restock on muguka. You got to respect a man who commanders a whole bus to stop so that he can feed his cravings. When he comes back he hands me a soda and apologizes genuinely.

Bole sana-mimi naona nasumbua wewe.

Hujasubua mimi. I answer him.

Lakini mimi naona wewe ni mtu wa dini kabisa! He says.

Kwa nini?  I ask him.

Kila wakati mimi naona wewe nasoma Biblia.

Do I tell him that I am reading one of Langston Hughes erotic poems?

We get to Matuu and its magharib prayer time. The conductor whose mouth is green with muguka shouts salah! The bus is parked by the roadside. These buses have unwritten rules-the men go to one side while the ladies go to the other side. The men remove their shoes, perform their ablutions, and face Mecca for their prayers.

Shortly, we get to Mwingi. Women wave at us from the roadside with mangoes, oranges and zeituni (guavas). If you have never eaten Mwingi guavas, then you are yet to taste life. Two women approach my seat with basket of fruits. Before I can protest that I don’t have money, a fat lady has already tossed an equally fat guava my way and told me:

‘Baba,oja hio usikie utamu wake’.

Man! Where else does one get to be enticed such way by women apart from Ukambani? I buy two kilos of guavas which is more than I can munch. That woman has Ph.D. in marketing.

The conductor has announced a 20-minute super break. The driver and his squad-those noisy fellows who sit atop the engine cabin-restock on fresh miraa . Northern Kenya buses are propelled by diesel and miraa .To pass an interview as a driver of one of these buses, one is assessed by the number of kilos of miraa he can chew in a day.

After snacking we board the bus and it starts flying –the dose of miraa the driver took at Mwingi is unadulterated and KEBS certified. A lady who took too many roadside samosas starts to puke through the window. A man who took too much drink is at the door holding the conductor by his neck-commanding him to stop the bus or he does it right there. The bus stops and almost everybody alights and the whole world becomes a urinal.

Up there in the heavens, there is a full moon blazing on us like a golden lozenge. A lovely zephyr caresses my skin-Ukambani always has this sultry weather. In a short while, we come to Ukasi-the town that marks the end of Ukambani as we head to Garissa.I offer Mzee Galgalo the guavas. He squints at them and selects the smallest ones. Thus I ask him why he is opting for the small ones.

We bado jua,kitu ndogo ndio tamu. The smaller it is, the sweeter it is.

With a mischievous glint in his eyes,Mzee Galgalo elaborates  that camel meat is good, but goat meat is better, chicken is even better than the rest. The smaller the better. A bus journey is a life lesson.

He then gets fidgety then disappears into the dark aisle. Shortly he comes back with  groundnuts in his hands. He tells me that he had gone to borrow groundnuts from people seated in seat number 55 and we are in seat 13.

Kwa nini huwezi omba kwa huyo jirani wako hapo? I ask him.

Huyu habana mtu ya mlango yangu! He is not from my sub-clan. You see, a Somali man will travel a mile to borrow single grain of njugu from his clansmen. He then offers me njugu which I select the big ones.

Wewe bado elewa,ikiwa kubwa utamu kidogo.Hata kwa maisha iko namna hio!

He reminds me of his previous lesson with a naughty wink. We laugh until he disappears to the back again to chat with watu ya mlango yake.We reach a place called Abakore where the road branches of from the city of thorns they call Dadaab and heads towards Habaswein-the town of many winds.Ikiwa ndogo,utamu mingi .Mzee Galgalo whispers into my ears. Then he alights out of the bus, swinging his bakora back and forth as he becomes one with the night.

A man with four goats stops the bus. The bleating goats are ushered into the bus undercarriage. The man enters the bus with his son, a young chap of about ten. The young chap fondly holds a white kid goat in his lap throughout the journey. Down the road, four lanky young men board the bus. Their kikos can hardly hide the Somali hunting knives in their hips. They are turbaned –making them look like knight Templars headed for some secret nocturnal crusade in some forgotten hamlet.

Since the bus is full, they agree to ride at the top. So they go up there, arrange their miraa in the bus top carrier and start chewing under the soft moonlight .Then they start complaining that the bus is going too fast and they can’t eat their miraa in peace. The bus conductor tells them to buy a bus of their own for chewing miraa in.

Everything is now silent apart from the chug-chug-chug of the bus wheels and the chomp-chomp-chomp of the miraa chewers. How the driver navigates the night with no Google maps beats sense. One mad turn into a road less traveled and you find yourself headed to Kismayu which is nearer to Wajir than Nairobi. The driver at times gets lost but he does so in the right direction. A bus journey is a metaphor for life: sometimes we get lost in the right direction. Other times in the wrong direction never, to recover again.

We are now at Habaswein-the place with a buxom lady called Raha who cooks killer chapos and goat meat. Habaswein is not in any map; true places never are. Just like that place you had your first kiss. Or that screechy bed you lost your innocence: a glorious experience that you have always longed to relive. We all have such a place that we want to go back to only that when you finally get there, we realize it’s our youth that we have been missing. But I digress.

The Somali have a breakfast called KK that incorporates chapatis, vegetables, goat soup, and a few pieces of goat meat. You eat this for two weeks and your forehead shines like an oil Sheikh’s. In Raha’s kitchen, the recipe for KK includes a helping of a spoonful of sugar. It’s only in Northern Kenya that sugar is added to food including ugali. This is no different from Kikuyus adding water to fish. All communities have their gastronomical goofs.

It’s now morning and the sun is rising beautifully from Kismayu-the desert has rough a beauty of its own. You see, there are places you go to and love. Others you go to and hate. But when you go to Wajir, you respect the place, the people’s resilience, and their sense of pride. People who walk with heads held high and speak in loud voices and eat noisily since they haven’t been silenced by silly city etiquettes that demand we cannot eat by hands or slurp tea lovingly. A free people who set their own standards of etiquette.

We have now traveled for so long that I think that since the world is round, we might be at the same place we started. We come to the barrier they erect just before you enter Wajir. An AP officer is sleeping on mat under a tree-his Kalashnikov acting as his pillow.The bus conductor gets out and kicks barrier out of the way.

Thirteen hours later the bus in which we have been travelling in like beings in space ship hurtling to some celestial reckoning arrives in Wajir. Kids are rushing to school and shepherds are taking their flocks to the pastures. Market women are spreading watermelons and greens by the roadside. We are tired but not worn out. This is what Vasco da Gama must have felt after rounding the Cape and landing at Malindi. But we aren’t the same way we started -our lessons come from the journey, not the destination. We may have been made weak by time and fate, but still we are strong-

-to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

Wajir feels exotic. It’s only in Northern Kenya that you travel to set foot in your country for the first time. Travelling within other parts of Kenya is a trip, but travelling to Wajir is an odyssey. Why? It is said that every 100 feet the world changes. The changes in 700km we have travelled are thus enormous.

The Muslims say bismillahi and alight from the bus. The Christians do the sign of the cross and disappear into the streets of Wajir.

The odyssey is finally over; another has just began.

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.

 

 

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.