Red Bananas: Late Bloomer Alert

Guys! I discovered red bananas this year. 2018. Sigh!

For 30 years, I have existed, lived, thrived and indeed been content with green and yellow bananas. I feel this is sad, but we will not wallow in how much I have been missing out on! If you are a late bloomer like me, this is for you! Taste and see what the Lord has done (or more accurately, has been doing since the beginning of time)!

I love shopping for fresh produce, in the open air markets aka soko, rather than supermarkets. It is the combination of smells, people and variety that draws me in. The mud during the rainy seasons is the cherry on the cake. It makes me feel like I have been through such treacherous terrain to get the goodies. Makes it worth the while. Makes my heart warm just thinking about the shopping experience. I absolutely love it. My mum has also been a great influence. She is obsessed with eating right and treating your body like the castle it is, and the bug caught on.

Parklands market is mother’s favorite. Spending time shopping with her is priceless as we get to bond a whole lot. Earlier this year, we decided to go to Parklands together after a dentist’s appointment in the same area. First stop, banana stall.

This guy’s stall had everything; all types of yellow bananas, green and even fenesi (jackfruit)! Then my eyes caught the red bananas. There should have been a soundtrack because it was love at first sight. I asked for one and my life has never been the same. Ha! For real. I think it was the same feeling I had the day I first tasted ice-cream back in the 90s. Genuine shock, love and a new sense of loyalty. I am sure I swore to eat ice-cream every day for the rest of my life. Then the economy happened and I forgot about the promise. I don’t like ice-cream that much any more. BUT these bananas! These ones I pledge allegence to for the rest of my life.

First of all, they are so beautiful to look at. A shiny red that have you wishing the skin was also edible. Let’s not even start with the taste and how delicately soft the flesh is. It is creamy and almost smells like strawberries. I don’t know how far one can go writing about their love for bananas 🤣 but I think I will just stop now before someone thinks I am about to sign a marriage certificate here 🤷🏾

Anyway. So, who else is a late bloomer here? Who is reading this post and wondering, “Where have you been girl?” Do you like it? Did you feel the way I felt the first time or I am just being too excited and it will soon fizzle out? Do share!

In the meantime, late bloomer, find yourself a market and taste this awesomeness. Thank me immediately. In advance. Because I insist you will like it!

PS: If you need an incentive to make the step, Google says this about the health benefits ;

  1. Great for weight loss! (Yaas! It keeps you fuller for longer and the works!)
  2. Good for your kidney ( extra potassium, so lower risk of kidney stones and possibly a torn anus 😷)
  3. Helps you tackle nicotine withdrawal (It is well with your lungs)
  4. Ladies, it is good for your skin 😍 (Buyer beware: The redness will not bleach or ‘remove tint.’ We are talking about textures here. Careful.)
  5. Purifiers your blood (You sinner, repent!)
  6. Naturalistas! It’s a good ingredient for hair masks! (Honestly, I wouldn’t waste this goodness on hair! Are you crazy? Let me eat it and let it find its way to the roots of my kinky locs. Thanks 😏

Alright! Thanks for coming.

💖

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Who do people say I am?

What is that one thing someone called you that you felt was a total representation of yourself then later got to appreciate the truth it held?

Sometime in my late teens or early twenties, I went on a camping trip with a couple of church folk from my church. I think there were two others visiting from elsewhere. We had a great time, playing games, eating, praying, telling stories and dancing around bonfires.

Soon, it was time to head on back home. On the last night, seated around the fire, one of the visitors stood up to give a vote of thanks or something…I can’t quite recall. He then said he wanted to say something about everyone of us and what impression we had had on him.

So he went round, and finally, it was my turn. Literally saving the best for last! Yey! (This can either be interpreted as vanity or self love. I will go with the latter 🤣) So I sat up, my ears all perked up ready to hear this man dropping some honey and crunchy almond truths.

I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

“Trezer. Trezer is an enigma.”

That’s all I heard before I zoned out into a couple of minutes of gut wrenching disappointment.

First of all, it was the first time I was hearing that word, ENIGMA. I love discovering new words. I still remember how beautiful I thought the word ‘mirage’ was when I first heard it in a Physics class in high school. It rolled off the tongue effortlessly and I kept saying it over and over. To date, I get so excited when I see the representation of a mirage on tarmac on a hot day. I always want to ask the next person in the car, “Do you know what a mirage is? No? See thine life! It is the most intriguing thing ever…”

This is not the feeling I had with enigma. I don’t know if it was the context in which it was said, but I thought it very harsh. Even the pronunciation was rigid and straight to the point. No waves on the tongue. I searched people’s faces for answers to this enigma thing this guy was talking about, but they seemed as confused as I was. I was the youngest in the group too, so I expected them to know because si older people always know better? (sic)

This guy was not even smiling. He had this look that I now think was genuine curiosity. I caught him say,

“It would take more than a couple of days to figure her out.”

I mean, who ever has anyone figured out in three days anyway? But you had nice nice things to say about everyone else and then give Trezer enigma? Sigh.

Anyway, I don’t remember how this awkward moment ended, but I thought about that incident a lot in the months that followed. I was actually really scared of looking up the word in the dictionary. I did not want to feel any worse, even though there was a chance it wouldn’t be so bad.

When I finally looked it up, it said;
“a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.

Wow. Where was the love?

I let it go and lived life.

Years later, I see this same guy in another church and the memory resurfaces. It should have been about a year or so after I graduated from university. I went home and read that meaning again, and suddenly I realized what a beautiful mystery my life had been. Still is. (Issa Testimony)

Sometimes, I get mini panic attacks when I come across a person (s) that doesn’t quite get me. I want to say, I am such an open book (well 🤔) or how do you not see this part of me that I have laid so bare for you (😥😏)? Why yoi you no understand me? But I am reminded that my responsibility is to work on myself in pursuit of the purpose for which I was created; first for myself and then for that ripple effect – for humanity’s sake.

The onus, (I have wanted to use this word for the longest time!!) the onus is on you to either sulk over what people think about you or get out and live. Live. Whatever this means to you. Push boundaries, scale those impossibly high walls. And when you can’t just take it slow, rediscovering pace and time.

I really like the idea of being mysterious though, even to self. That everyday is a chance to learn more about you, to unravel thoughts and little gems that make up the greater you. To straighten folds amd creases.

To be in constant curiousity about self and the potential that lies therein is one of life’s greatest blessings.

I should know.

Yours truly,
Enigmatic Trezer 😜

The Kisumu Museum

The last two weeks have seen me cover (though not extensively) five out of six counties in what is formerly ‘Nyanza Province.’

Kisumu. Homabay. Migori. Kisii. Siaya.

Nyanza is beautiful.

A sight for sore eyes. Cliche, I know, but it really is.

So many things grab your attention as you drive through. If it’s not the women expertly balancing loads on their heads at Adiedo, it is the beautiful Lake Victoria glistening at a distance, the acres of rice and sugarcane farms. The glorious sunsets!! During the trip, my driver would interrupt the silence with interesting tales of why this place was named so and precious nuggets about the rich culture in this part of Kenya. Story for another day.

..And this is why I was extremely disappointed when I finally made my way to the Kisumu Museum.

After the grueling but pleasant round trip, I was eager to go to the museum and dig deep into the culture and traditions that I had only glossed over during my road trip. Woe.

The information there is Google material. I didn’t learn anything. Well, not true. I learnt that a third wife is called reru. I know the assumption would be that being from the Luo tribe, very little would surprise me anyway. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, I kid you not, any one from any other tribe who went through the 844 system would be bored silly at the regurgitated information from the GHC text books.
What did I expect? I will tell you.

1. The Obvious
Of course. The Luo homestead, the gallery showing the way of life back then (some still relevant today). Then the usual snakes. There were two crocodiles and tens of tortoises too. I didn’t expect the aquarium though, so that was a pleasant, though forgettable experience.

2. Music
I wanted to hear beautiful sounds of the Orutu and Nyatiti as I walked through the halls. The voices and foot thumping of the Ramogi dancers. Eh. How about Benga/ohangla tunes playing as you move from one section to another? Music and dance is a huge part of the Luo culture. Why would it be absent in a museum. Oh, by the way. There were traditional dancers in the Luo homestead area, only that they were dressed in modern clothes and were busy just beating stories. When we entered the ‘husband’s hut,’ we found two ladies plaiting each other’s hair inside the hut. I think they need to take part in an exchange program with the the Mijikenda to see how these things are done.

3. I should say at this point that Nyanza was/is not exclusively inhabited by the Luos. There are other nilotic groups like Kuria and Abasuba found in Migori County and environs. How about dedicating a section to them as well. The widespread intermarriage between the Luo and Abasuba is threatening to make the latter past tense. The community is actually almost extinct. I met a kind fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria at Muhuru Bay who confirmed this. He taught me the basic greeting. Here:

Salutation: Warai
Response: Bukei

4. Speaking of diversity, the Luos are quite unique in their own regions. This is especially evident in the tales and folklore told in different areas. In Kendu Bay area, you will hear the story of Simbi Nyayima and Nyamgondho wuod Ombare. So fascinating I tell you. In Kano, you will hear of the legendary Luanda Magere. And there are many more. How difficult would it be to get a dani or kwaro to narrate these stories and have them recorded then played at a section dubbed “Sigana” or something better. I’m sure these could be translated and narrated in English too. Am I being too ambitious? Well. I am allowed to dream.

5. Kisumu Museum should be and is mostly one of the first stops for local and international tourists in the region. It should, in my opinion, be sort of a road map; where to find what, why is that interesting and why should I brave the sweltering heat to explore a certain area. As it is now, it lacks the charisma the people of this region are known to have. There is no talk about the stunning bay areas (Kendu, Homa, Muhuru); nothing about Rusinga Island, or the Simbi Nyayima site. What about Yala Falls or Kit Mikayi and the story behind it? Onge!

I am not quite sure how these things work, or who is in charge of what, but I do know there is a county minister of tourism and culture, Kisumu County. What is his scope of work? Can he work with his counterparts in the neighboring counties and the national Ministry of Tourism and Culture to influence a revamp of the Kisumu Museum? If ‘Nyanza’ foresees a future where she is not just known as a fish eating destination, more will need to be done. I think the museum is a great place to start.

Have you visited the museum? What do you think? Any suggestions?

​“Clothed and Shielded”

I was having a chat with an old friend from campus the other day. Deep into the conversation he asked;
“What was up with you back then by the way? You looked super satisfied with life!”

I was taken aback. Me? Super satisfied? Ha!

(I think satisfied here would mean content, at peace)

Looking back, I would not say I was super satisfied with life, as he put it. I always had my plate full. Every semester, I would take the maximum number of credit hours allowed. This meant a lot of course work. The tuition fee was always a cloud hanging right above my head, and to ease things up for my folks, I took up the work study program which meant working for a couple of hours every week. The ‘salary’ I earned would go a long way in covering a certain percentage of the fee balance. Then there was basketball, which I like to say kept me sane. I would go to the court every week day evening at 5pm without fail. Tournaments and league games would take up most of the weekends. This while working at the campus radio station and trying to have a social life while at it. 

I wasn’t complaining. I had reconciled with the fact that it was a lot, but it had to be done. My fear was that I thought I ‘looked’ like a wreck. I wanted to believe that I cleaned up well, but I was convinced that everyone could see right through me, only that they were too polite to mention it. 

My prayer life wasn’t stellar, but I did have conversations with the father. I remember praying for strength, wisdom, peace of mind and most of all joy. Oh, and I loved this verse in Philippians, “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.” This alone barricaded any thoughts of giving in or a mental breakdown. There were times I prayed for the lecturer to get stuck in traffic so I could have the morning or afternoon off to sleep (Imagine this request was granted more times than I can count!) Oh of the times I began praying at night only to wake up with an Amen in the AM! Then there were times I would go for days on end without what I like to call structured prayers. Thank God for ‘The Grace’ prayer that stood in the gap. Prayer was done conveniently to suit the state of mind and body, rarely the soul. I know better now. 

So for four years, I worked and hustled my way to my undergraduate degree. It was a beautiful roller coaster. Sometimes I look back and thank God that phone cameras were not as advanced and therefore the urge to constantly take photos was suppressed. Man! The evidence against me would have been super incriminating…I think.

Let me just tell you now, God is amazing…

…and his timing is perfect. 

“Don’t know about being satisfied. God is so good. He probably clothed me like that to protect me.” I answered him.

Just like that, God, at a time when I was having certain feelings of inadequacy reminded me why He is shalom. WhiIe I worried about my outward appearance and how people perceived me, He was at work, clothing me with radiance and contentment. He caused others to see confidence and purpose. Come to think of it, even in times when I felt like I was crumbling, there was someone near me to attend to the very need I had. I found people I could laugh with. People who would have probably been put off if it were not for the robe of peace and joy that God had elegantly draped over my shoulders and zipped tight. 

What a revelation!

Ladies, you know when we are obsessing about a solitary pimple somewhere on our faces and someone tells you, “Eh! You are glowing!” Most of us, instead of the good ol’ thank you, will likely point out to that pimple and ask the person if they did not see it before they gave the compliment. God causes people to marvel at your glow, but you won’t let yourself prosper. You just have to bring up that flaw you think will dim that light you are radiating.  Self – sabotage…

Here is some encouragement for you as you swim through this week’s waters, God is listening. He heard you yesterday when you shouted for help. Today, when you said thank you for prayers answered, he heard that too! You don’t have to say complex prayers or speak in tongues. Psalms 119:80 “Let my heart be sound (sincere and wholehearted and blameless) in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame.” I love these prayers that David made, recognizing that we can be so inadequate but since Jesus ushered us into the reign of grace, it is definitely sufficient in our walk of faith. I think it is pretty refreshing that we can be naked before God, as we can’t with man, as the father ‘covers’ for us on the outside. It is important that you read God’s word. It offers such a sweet reassurance that He is the custodian of all that we need; peace from the prince of peace, strength from the lion of Judah, joy in his presence and sanctuary, and so forth. Talk to Him, and when you can’t, let your heart remind Him of ‘your stock chats,’ of promises made. You might not even see or feel it, but God’s unconditional, unbelievable, undeniable, indescribable love is present; shielding and clothing you. You will wear that gown with the dignity and confidence it deserves and demands. You will not make any justifications for it, because there is none; only unmerited favor.

Blessings!!

When did you last see your mother?

Rambanya, when did the gap between your two front teeth get so wide?

Oh dear.

Your neck…It used to be longer. Longer than that palm tree you told me you liked to climb when you were thirteen.

Ati you don’t like milk that much anymore?

Heee! Mummy! Remember when you would let me do matutas on your hair and I would freak out about those three silver strands? Why were you growing old? I wanted to pull them out, but you stopped me. Uproot one, and three would grow back in its place, you said. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, twenty…I can’t count them all. Wow, mother. Why did you let them near your strands?

Around your eyes…Are those wrinkl…No. I won’t say it.

Grace is not just the middle name you don’t use, it is the way you seem to be aging, gracefully.

You have changed a lot Min Okiso. Right before my eyes.

Where have I been?

I have missed so much.

But;

This your  unveiling is the most important event I have attended in the recent past.

I thought, no…knew, yours to be the purest, most perfect soul. Who would have thought that it would further evolve to achieve even greater perfection?

I am in awe, Da Skylar gi Don.

It is richer. It radiates and smells of a refreshing newness. You know, like deep fried omena after a long fast.

Believe me…

I feel it in your hugs. They are tighter.

I taste it in your chapatis. They have always been the best, but now, there are layers and layers of tenderness. A heartfelt nostalgia of chapati Sundays.

I see it in your eyes. The way they light up when you talk about your grandchildren and your home back in the village. You want to live. Live longer. Better.

I hear it in your voice. Well, apart from your commentaries during the Naija movies 😂 It is in the way you laugh. The brief playful giggles too. Once upon a time, there was this little girl called Carren…

Carren. What a beautiful name.

Can you smell that mum? No, not what The Rock is cooking! (I see you rolling your eyes! Stop it!) There is love in the air. What does love smell like? I guess one will know when the aroma passes your nose. Perception.

There is an unfolding. A process of rediscovering the love of self. A relearning. I truly admire your glow! See your glow!

Hashtag #Following.

I am following for myself.

You will not lose me this time around ma.

I see you. Every bit.

God bless you.

Happy #MothersDay!

When did you last see your mother? Not for what she was, but who she is and becoming? 

Glossary.

Rambanya- The Dholuo word for Diastema.

Da- Short for Dani, grandmother.

Gi- and

A Toothache, blind date and other stories

Why do toothaches get worse at night? Do they feel the need to fill up the silence and peace that take over from the day’s madness with their stinging conversations with the nerves? Or it it punishment for all the days we (read I) eat Oreo cookies in bed, then get too lazy to go brush? Needless to say, I did not get an ounce of sleep last night. I stayed up reading ‘Dust,’ by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, listening to the water pump humming the night away and judging (mostly cursing) those wretched neighbors walking in at three and not even trying to be discreet. At dawn’s first light, I ran into the bathroom a tired mess thinking of one person, the dentist.

On another day, I would have double checked the contents of my bag. I would have made sure I had the office keys, wallet, kindle and the lemon and strawberry water. Not today. All I could think of was getting that monster away from me. 

The matatu pulled up and the five of us waiting at the stop scrambled in, never mind that it was literally empty. From my seat behind the driver, I thought about how we had gotten so used to fighting our way through everything that even when a situation needed no force, we felt the need to assert our might. When I was not too preoccupied with the pain, I actually noticed what a beautiful morning it was. The sun’s rays sliced through the thick mist making it quite obvious that a takeover was imminent. Little hands locked into bigger ones as mothers walked their children to school. I felt my mood lift as the air got lighter, until the suited guy next to me motioned me to shut the window. I rolled my eyes and took a few seconds before I slid it shut. I winced as at that very moment, someone let out a series of hollow coughs. A toothache from hell was not enough, I had to get TB too?

The conductor was collecting the fare. I reached into my bag, calmly searching the first compartment for my purse. Then the second. Then panic when I couldn’t find it in the third. I repeated the process, almost emptying the contents of the bag onto my lap. Then I saw it. It was lying casually on my bedside table, oblivious of the trouble I was in because of its position. I sighed and looked helplessly at the conductor, “I think I have left my wallet at home. Do you take M-pesa?” He looked at me as if I was the most annoying thing he had ever come across. “Madam unataka kulipa fifty bob na Mpesa? Aii. Tiga wana weh!” He wasn’t going to let me pay through mobile money transfer. His knuckles knocked on the window alerting the driver to stop. “Shuka utafute Mpesa utoe hiyo doe.” No one flinched as I alighted to look for an Mpesa shop at eight thirty in the morning. I watched the matatu speed away as I took in my surroundings. No Mpesa shops. I wanted to cry, but no tears would come out. I just felt my insides flood. 

I must have been a most awful sight, because a man stopped and asked me if I was alright. He listened as I explained my predicament, eyeballing me for potential con woman qualities (I assumed). I could hardly believe my luck when he offered me some cash, enough to get me to town. When I told him I could refund him immediately through Mpesa, he declined and walked away, wishing me a much better day than the crappy morning I was having. I made a mental note to do a Facebook post later to celebrate this rare species of a human being.

I had no appointment, so I sat at the reception hoping for a miracle. The receptionist had already made it clear that the morning slots were all taken, but I wouldn’t budge. Every now and then, she would remind me that they wouldn’t bend the rules just because my tooth was “giving me a little trouble.” Little trouble? Lately I feel like some of these receptionists need to be given a high five, with a chair, on their faces. Little trouble indeed. There was no one else waiting with me. I preoccupied myself with the interior design, wondering why this had not been placed there and that there. When the doctor finally walked out, I gave him the most pitiful look. He asked what procedure I was there for and I said “This tooth is killing me!” The last couple of days had been terrible, so much so that when I walked out of the operating room an hour and a half later, the relief felt like something foreign; like a holiday in Hawaii after a busy year digging up minerals at a quarry in Homabay.

I was suddenly so upbeat that when a client requested a lunch time meeting, I accepted. I never do impromptu meetings but the new burst of life gave me such a confidence boost. I made my way towards the Yala Mall and settled into the leather seats at the Africana restaurant where we had agreed to meet. I ordered a drink then took to sizing up the place. Ever since the the attack on Westgate happened, I always look for possible escape routes available in and around an establishment. It now comes ever so naturally that I don’t think it unusual that I still live in fear of something that happened a while back. Better safe than sorry, is my mantra. I note only one exit and decide to push the anxiety to the back of my mind and focus instead on the people at the lunch tables. I recall one of my writing mentors telling me, “…stories are everywhere. You just need to look, snoop and spy a little…or a lot!” 

I had never met this client before, so I had no idea how she looked. She had however described what she was wearing so I would recognize her when she walked in. A few minutes later, I stood to receive her as she walked towards me, only for her to walk past me to the table next to mine. Confused, I looked at the text she had sent me and then at her. The description was spot on. I stole glances at her every few seconds then finally decided to go ask her if she was Molyne. 

“Get away from me!” She jumped, instinctively picking up the steak knife. “I have seen the way you have been looking at me. What do want?” 

More than the look of terror on her face was the look on mine, shock.

Are you Molyne?

She was Carol

Mercy Nairobi, Mercy.

Nairobi is unashamedly brutal.

Gitonga thinks so, and quite frankly, I agree.

Why? I’ll explain in a bit. Let me begin by telling you how I met Gitonga…

The Nakuru Whole sellers Market has not changed much. It is still the market of my childhood. My siblings and I would fight for a chance to come to the market to help mama with Saturday shopping. Not that we loved the experience. If anything, it was quite tiring, but the allure of a Lyons Maid ice-cream treat after shopping was incentive enough. My visits here are now far and in between, mostly in December when I am home for the holidays. I am here today to buy some fresh green maize for nyoyo, a popular Kenyan dish made by boiling a mixture of maize and beans. I am trying out mother’s recipe, replacing beans with chick peas. It is healthier and a welcome reprieve from the beans that always leave me bloated. I ask a woman wearing an apron in a material strangely similar to my primary school uniform where the maize section is.

Habari Madam? Naweza pata wapi mahindi mbichi?

She points out and adds. “Na uchunge usifungiwe huko ndani” I look at my watch. 2:30pm

As I make my way towards the maize dealers, I suddenly become aware of my look; too clean. I am conspicuous in my orange knee length dress and sea blue sandals. One does not simply clean up this well when heading to a farmer’s market. The more well dressed you are, the more you will be charged. It is a proven concept. The sellers size you up from head to toe then determine the market price. Reminds me of the Engarasha (also bend over boutique) hawkers who change the price of the shoe as soon as they see my number 9 self approaching. One minute he is hollering “Mia biri, mia biri! Kiatu mia biri. Camera!” As soon as I express interest in a rare No.9 shoe he did not even know he had, the story changes. “Msupa si unajua tu hii size vire ni ngumu kuget? Nimekufanyia bei poa. Chukua na soo nane. Nayo ni kitu sawa. Itakuserve.” How the price shot up from Ksh. 200 to Ksh. 800 is not quite the mystery. Shopping for us #BigFootInc, a team I have chaired since I was 10, can get quite frustrating. Anyway, I make peace with the fact that today, I fall victim to that misguided formula. But it is Sunday, the 1st day of January 2017. One must hope. The seller is probably a Catholic faithful who visited the confession booth this morning and told the priest how sorry he was for taking (read stealing) from his brothers and sisters this past year under the economy dip guise. The priest, after listening patiently had assured him that his sins had been forgiven.

“Go and sin no more.”

This side of the market is mostly abandoned. My nose soon gets used to the smell. It is a fusion of fresh onions, rotting tomatoes, sweet overripe mangoes and dampness. A light breeze throws my rosy perfume into the mix. For a brief second, I notice a man doing I don’t know what. I keep moving. The men at the maize section do not seem too eager to make a sale. Maybe it is the heat. Though offering some reprieve, the heat under the iron roofed shelter is almost as unforgiving as the one beyond. I ask again and someone points me to a small hill of green maize.

“Tatu twenty-five hapo madam, Chagua.” Three cobs for twenty-five shillings seems fair.

A young man speaking with a slight lisp offers me a gunny bag for twenty shillings. I decline. I start my selection process. I want maize worth a hundred shillings. I pick one, part the fresh green covers and feel the maize inside. If it is too hard or too soft, I throw it back. I put the chosen ones next to my right foot and repeat. That man I saw doing I don’t know what approaches me and offers to help. I know he will ask for some sort of payment when done, so I tell him I am alright. This is the season Kenyans like to call ‘Njaanuary,’ loosely translated to mean ‘a starving January.’ The hustle is real. The wallet dry spell is common during this first month of the year, coming hot in the heels of an extravagant festive season.

“Ah, utaninunulia tu chai.” He says with a smile.

I know that he does not literally mean chai. Who, except my brothers and sisters from Western Kenya, can drink tea in this heat? Anyway, it is New Year’s Day; I should be able to buy a stranger a cup of tea.

“So what’s your name?”

“Gitonga”

Minutes later, he offers to carry the load for me, again, ‘free of charge.’

“Wewe hukuenda nyumbani mwaka mpya?”

“Aii. Going home between Christmas and New Year is a waste of money. The fare to Meru, my home is double the normal price. Then when I get home, everyone expects this working class of a man to share his wealth. What wealth? Anyway, I would rather go when status quo resumes. These matatu guys will soon be begging us to travel home.”

I nod in agreement, thinking of the extra two hundred shillings I had to pay from Nairobi.

“Haiya! Georgie amefunga gate!” It is a few minutes past three. The gate is closed. The woman had warned not me to stay too long.

“Georgie is a stickler for rules. He will not open this gate till 3.30pm. We’ll have to wait.” Gitonga adds that the wholesale market hours have to be regulated to allow the retailers to sell their goods. Customers are aware of the price difference between the two sections so naturally, they throng the wholesale area deserting the retailers.

I look at my watch again. Ten minutes past three. Gitonga sits on a dirty crate. He reaches into a black polythene bag he just fished from his pocket. Miraa. I should have guessed. Merus and Miraa are like Luhyas and tea. Inseparable. A green leaf finds its way into his mouth. I notice his dry, slightly cracked lips. Maybe he does need that tea. Unlike other miraa consumers I have come across, he does not have  any drink with him. I watch, a little intrigued as he continues chewing on his Khat. I admire his carefree nature. I still have a long way home, so I remain standing. We do not want to mess up our Sunday Best now, do we?

“Miraa is better than alcohol. A man who eats miraa never fails in bed. I can’t say the same for an alcoholic.” He says when I inquire about this habit.

I try not to look bothered by the high jump our conversation had taken. I had simply asked him why he felt the need to eat miraa. Sex drive tena? Ghai! I successfully shift the conversation to livelihood, but not before he makes it clear that Meru men never need a “10 Natural Ways to Boost Your Libido” article because they never fall short in the first place.

“So what exactly do you do here in the market?”

“My day starts early. I am always here by 5:30 am. There are truck loads of food arriving from different parts of the country. I offload the goods then stick around the whole day for odd jobs here and there. Sometimes, these traders give me goods they feel would not be as fresh the following day, at a reduced price of course. I then wait till rush hour when I head over to the bus stages and sell them to the ones who were too busy to come to the market. I can make up to Ksh. 2000 on a good day. On a bad day, I walk home and hope my wife had better luck. She is a good woman, that one. Are you buying anything else? You had better make use of this time. There are tomatoes and mangoes there.”

I assure him I have all I need.

There are three other men waiting for the gates to open. One of them says, “Ni vile tu nina njaa, ningekuwa nimeruka gate.” The other one warns him against it, and goes on to narrate an incident where a man lost his ring finger while trying to jump over the gate.

Gitonga asks why he has never seen me in the market before.

“You can’t possibly know everyone who comes to this market.”

“I know, but you are hard to miss.”

I smile. Gitonga is on a mission.

“I work in Nairobi”

“Really? I have worked in Nairobi before. Weh! That city is not for the weak. Even the strong are not strong enough for Nairobi and her tribulations. I used to be a hawker. We would engage the City Council officers in running battles. When you are caught, you are either beaten to a pulp or shoved into their old rickety vans and transported to the council cells. The lucky ones would negotiate and bribe their way out before they get to the cursed holding cells. When you allow yourself to get to that point, there is no telling what they will charge you with. God help you. But we always went back to the streets. Watoto lazima wakule. You get used to it. I think no one should have to get used to such a life. I’m glad I got out. Weh! Nairobi showed me!”

hawkers-running

Hawkers in running battles with city council officers.  (Photo: Internet)

I have a feeling I have not heard half of what this man went through. Just then, the gates fly open, and a man standing tall at over 6 feet and wearing a faded brown coat calls out, “Haya, watu waende nyumbani.”

Tom Mboya Street is its usual chaotic self. The new year did not bring any surprises. Different commuter buses still pack here. People queue up waiting for buses still stuck in Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams. There is one particularly long winding queue. The Kikuyu one is always like that. There is never a queue with the matatus I use. Only two seats left at the back of the one that’s waiting. I opt to wait for the next one.

I look around to see what wares the hawkers have today. There are fruits, clothes, shoes, toys, among other things. They are all laid out on both sides of the pavement, making it very hard for pedestrians to navigate through. Suddenly, a mini commotion. A group of men, one of them dread-locked, is moving from one hawker to another demanding something. Two of the guys in the group are carrying big polythene bags. If someone resists, they take a few pieces of their wares and move along. They get closer and I hear the guy with the locs, seemingly the leader say, “Fifty bob!” A woman places the money into his palm and he goes to the next one. As they pass by, I see a woman tugging at one of the paper bags. She is screaming.

“..but I have paid! Rasta? Si nimekulipa na huyu amechukuwa vitu zangu. Mwambie anirudishie.”

Rasta is too busy collecting money to hear. Now a few meters ahead, he notices that someone in his entourage is not with him. The woman is still putting up a fight. Rasta runs back, quite agitated and starts roughing up the woman. She is relentless. Rasta is getting impatient. He gives her a final shove that almost sends her to the ground. The group moves on. The woman, not more than 5 ft tall is at a loss. She stands rooted to the spot and says over and over again, “I paid them. 50 bob! And they still took my stuff.” Heartbreaking. Her colleagues just look at her, faces empathetic but mostly helpless. Their loud wooing calls to customers soon drown out her voice.

Meanwhile, rasta is quarreling with a man. They are now standing nose to nose, and I fear a fight will break out. It doesn’t. They both head out in opposite directions. As the man walks past me in a huff, I ask him, “Kwani Kanjo wanafanya job usiku?”

“Hawa si kanjo. Nkt! Mafala hao”

I have seen enough. I get into the bus, now halfway full. If rasta and his troupe are not the city council, who are they? Thugs terrorizing and milking people of their hard earned 50 shillings? Are they any different from Mungiki and other criminal groups who controlled the transport industry in selected hoods in Nairobi a while back? I can’t shake off that woman’s high pitched cry for help. But this is Nairobi. Every. Man. For. Himself. Everyone else is too busy avoiding the trap to help. Even our President does not know what do. Mercy Nairobi, Mercy.