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

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.

 

Musings of a professional bouquet catcher

I am a little bit over 6ft tall. It is a good thing, mostly, but what this means, (in a wedding context) is that I almost always catch the bouquet. Sometimes, I look around me and just feel like the Usain Bolt of catching bouquets. A win is assured, but winning can get boring (ha!) unless you break records or that sort of thing. So I purposed to challenge myself at every wedding. I either do not jump at all (see how bolt sometimes just jogs to the finishing line? Yeah) or try to jump higher than the other time. On rare occasions, I sit it out and let other ladies have the glory. You know, missing the World Championships for the Olympics (Logic: The potential Mr.Right grows taller…)

stock-illustration-7998604-bouquet-toss

Anyway, I recently attended a rather unique wedding. At the end, when the bride is supposed to throw the bouquet to the ‘next in line,’ she made a moving speech instead and gifted the flowers to a woman who had been married the longest. It was such a beautiful tribute!! I loved it! I of course went on to update it on Facebook, and as I was just about to click post, it occurred to me that this bride had denied me an opportunity. How dare she? Doesn’t she know that our getting husbands depends her throwing that bouquet, us catching it and living happily ever after with our prince charming(s)? How insensitive! Now I am scared. If every bride thinks that this is a splendid idea, then #TeamSingle will keep growing (sigh! Is that such a bad thing though?) We shall discuss, but first, a little bit of history…

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According to http://www.weddingaces.com, the tossing of the bridal bouquet is a custom that roots in England and was believed to be a way for the bride to pass along her good fortune to others. Bridal guests would  try and tear away pieces of the bride’s clothing and flowers in order to obtain this fortune. In attempt to get away from this tearing of her gown, the bride would toss her bouquet into the crowd. As tradition says, the single lady who catches the bouquet has received the bride’s fortune and will be next in line to marry. The garter takes the place of the bouquet for the men. The groom is supposed to remove the garter and toss it to the eager single men and similarly, the single man who catches it would be next in line. I don’t think this happens in Kenya though. Which Kenyan man would willingly give a piece as intimate as his wife’s garter to another man? Hehee! Indeed, I attended a wedding where at the evening party, the groom removed the garter (with his teeth) and put it in his pocket. That was just hilarious! And of course disappointing to all the single men who now had to wait till the next wedding to get lucky. Pressure!

In light of this, I have a few questions, on behalf of the professional bouquet and, on the very rare occasions, garter catchers.

  1. Define single.

So now, does single mean not dating or dating but not married? Don’t you find it confusing? And unfair? Sometimes unrealistic? I mean, say ‘not dating’ catches the bouquet, will she pituka or get married before the ‘dating?’ Isn’t that unfair? Like someone overtaking Bolt from way back. It just seems wrong,  especially because the bouquet is supposed to quicken a man to proposing and then leading a delegation to your parents to formally ask for your hand in marriage. However, I think ‘dating’ catching the bouquet is pretty advantageous too. As we Kenyans are fond of saying, “Watatuondolea jam.”(They will remove the jam 😀 ) I also propose that these two categories be separated and the bride tosses two bouquets. Fair, isn’t it?

  1. How many?

Exactly how many times am I supposed to catch before I get lucky? I am no longer the tallest in the herd, I’m afraid. Just what manure are we feeding these kids these days? I never used to get serious challengers. But now a new crop of Yegos are springing up and setting their own records. I need to retire while I am still ahead…or I will never catch another bouquet. Pray, someone tell me if there are rules and regulations we have been ignoring. Wait! Here is a great idea! Both the bouquet and the garter are thrown at the same time and the two lucky winners get together. The priest and pastors present then lay hands and pray seriously and seal the ‘union.’ And what do you know? The union survives and they get to return the favor to the singles club. Genius, right? Terms and Conditions still apply though. Anything can happen. By the way, I may be holding on to someone’s ‘man’ going by the number of times I have made the catch. I would like to publicly apologize to whoever it is. If we ‘jumped with you’ at any of the recent weddings, please get in touch so we can sort this out and give you what is rightfully yours. First come first serve.

  1. Can people just chill out?

Do not approach me at a wedding and ask me, “Si wewe ndio ulishika ile maua ya last? Niaje umekam weddo pekee yako?” (You caught the bouquet at the last wedding, why are you here alone?) …or say to me,”Leo si utuachie tu” (Can you sit this one out today?) Maybe today I don’t need the bouquet for the same reason you do. Maybe I just like that the bride is not carrying the kawaida flowers and would like to keep that bunch on my table before I ask her where she got them as soon as she comes back from the honeymoon so I can buy my own. Phew!

  1. If you are single you are single (LoL)

Ok this is not a question, but, I have been to weddings where the MC or Pastor has had to say, “Hivi ndio watu hukosa mabwana, not heeding to the call…” then you see a flock of women or ladies, if you like, straightening their dresses and dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” There is nothing wrong with being single, I think.It certainly isn’t a disease! So if you feel it is not yet time (because if you catch the bouquet you are definitely getting married) just sit it out. Even if the pastor decrees it to be the final bouquet toss, for the next five years. Don’t panic. Know yourself.

So, upcoming brides (what?) please don’t substitute this tradition with the very noble and thoughtful gesture of gifting the longest married women. Si they are already blessed with a husband who can buy them flowers all the time? Have mercy on us. Make the right decision. We need you to uphold and preserve tradition. Thank you.

A lesson in dreaming

I treasure children. I love their innocence and all they can get away with in the name of being ‘children’, because when a grown up does them, they are branded childish. I love the genuinity(is that a word?) in their eyes; the windows to their souls. I can tell, earnestly, when they are happy, sad, bored or whatever other feeling. Being around kids is refreshing. I started accompanying the education team for documenting purposes, film and photography. Then, unofficially, hype man (woman) was added to my TOR-Terms of Reference. So whenever the kids look bored or are unresponsive, I am there to do an equivalent of ‘ikibamba sana wapi nduruuuu’! Anyway, so this one of those times, the Save the Elephants education team, is out in Chumviere, somewhere between Isiolo and Archers post. To get to Chumviere Primary School, you will need:

  1. A strong purpose
  2. One of those cars used by drivers in the Rhino Charge events
  3. Water
  4. A state of the art backbone.

There is a British Army barrack just off the tarmac. It is the only modern building you’ll see until you get to the school. The terrain is mostly rocky and thorny, and when its not, its very dusty. There are ‘manyatta’ villages scattered every few kilometers. Sometimes, you will see an old woman with her donkey carrying a jerry can or two of water and boys tending to goats. They stop to look at you and/or your car and the young boys run after you waving excitedly. If they see a ‘mzungu’ they will shout proudly “How are you?” and run away giggling at the response, “Fine.” Only, the mzungus are sometimes too eager to show off their Kiswahili skills, they shout back a “Jambo!”

We get to the school and its just perfect. Well, not perfect PERFECT, but it certainly beats my lowly expectations. I spot a water tank somewhere, and then classrooms built of wood and oiled black. The Kenyan flag is flying high on a high metal pole planted in the middle of a circle of well-arranged white stones. A few meters away, a stone walled toilet brightly painted blue and white. Some writings on it, I can’t quite make them out. After a briefing at the headmaster’s office, we head to the Standard Six class. There are about 20 of them, more girls than boys this time. There have been incidences of banditry and cattle rustling, and most of the boys had to go help their fathers with the herds. The girls stayed back with the women folk. Staff introductions and the lessons begin. “Living in Harmony with Elephants,” they are dubbed. The education team goes round schools built around elephant corridors and carries out lessons to find out the students attitudes towards the elephants and how Save the Elephants can help in areas of conflict.

The team concludes part one of the lesson and one of them whispers in my ear “enda uwachangamshe kidogo before we start part 2”) Ha! So I step up and ask each of them to tell me their name and what they would like to be when they grow up. Cliché, I know, but I love to hear that kids still dream in this day and age. I tell them to smile while at it because it makes it even more interesting, and I like to see happy faces (…also, we need to get really happy photos for social media and the website) I get a couple of answers; from doctors (of course) to teachers, pilots and even rangers, but nothing could have prepared me for this one. “My name is Raphael, he says, “…and I want to be a farmer.”

Source: Internet

A young farmer

I say a ‘wow!’ Careful not to sound too surprised. I tell him to keep working at it. I expected all the other answers. Almost all of them had seen someone in that career once. Pilots, they had seen flying planes over their schools. They have been through enough hard times to see soldiers and men in uniform around, so being a soldier or pilot don’t sound so farfetched.

Why you ask, did the farmer amaze me so? Picture the terrain I have just described. Nothing grows there except thorns and other random weeds. The livestock eat whatever they can find. On a previous visit, lunch was githeri (A mixture of hard boiled maize and beans-a Kenyan delicacy) No one wants to eat this everyday though, but to some of these kids its life. A hope. For Raphael, being a farmer represented people and green lush farms that he’d only seen in books. A farfetched one, but a dream nonetheless. It made me happy, that he wished to explore the world beyond Chumviere. He knew that to fulfill his dream he had to work hard to get out of Chumviere where farming doesn’t happen and who knows, come back and supply green leafy vegetables home.

Aaaaah! A lesson in dreaming.

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. -Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Money Lover

I was walking home one easy evening in Nairobi, lost in #Foodie thoughts, you know, what I would have for dinner in my #FlatTummyQuest. I had decided on butternut squash and a nice wet fry 🙂 I was already cutting up the cucumbers, the red and yellow capsicum when a man stopped abruptly. He bent to pick up something from the ground. He then turned my way and said, “Huyu ameangusha pesa na anendelea tu kutembea?” (Someone just dropped some money). I encouraged him to go after the man and give it back.

“Aii zi!si hiyo ni carelessness. Tugawane!”(No, he was careless, let’s share it) By now, I had noticed he reeked of alcohol. I decided to play along.

“Sawa, but let’s find him and give him the money and then demand ‘our share’… imagine if it was you?”. Accompanying the bundle was a receipt of one from the trusted banks in Kenya. Fifty Thousand Kenya Shillings Only, it said…being payment of ‘driver’s fee’. I really wanted for the guy who had dropped the bundle to get it back, so for a moment, my dinner plans were put on hold even as the ‘finder’ agreed to my suggestions. We crossed the road and started looking for a short guy with a red cap on and a sweater draped around his shoulders.

We went back to the spot and as if by a miracle, the guy appeared, exhibiting all manner of stress and panic.  We greeted him and asked him if he had lost something, and in the shakiest voice you could ever imagine from a man, he said, “Aki nimepoteza fifty thao!”(I have lost fifty thousand) We interrogated him a bit more then Mr.Finder asked that he gives us five thousand each. I looked at him, registering all sorts of disbelief and anger! When did we stop being genuine good samaritans we once were, eh Kenyans? So ‘we’ negotiated to two thousand each. He agreed. As soon as Mr. Finder handed him the money, I excused myself, telling him I didn’t need his money. Mr. Finder protested and said we had a deal. he was almost getting angry. I knew this could get out of hand so I said, “You can have my share too” and whisked myself across the road. I looked back from the other side and the tension seemed to have eased a bit.

Fast forward a week later. We were passing through the exact spot where Mr. Finder had found the 50k bundle. I start recounting to my colleague my experience and how we are just becoming a hopeless cruel society where no one helps without expecting a reward (I might have also shown some bravado, being a Christian who wants to follow Christ’s footsteps and get to heaven, lol) She stops me midway looking quite concerned, but on second thought lets me continue. Once I was done, she tells me, “Those were conmen!” Apparently, these group of people work in twos or threes. One drops the bundle, the other one picks and offers the third unsuspecting party a share of the money. If one agrees, they are escorted to a dark corner(because the owner might come looking) and then robbed and whatever other evil they feel like metting out on the victims.

“You know what saved you? You are not greedy. For money. For things that aren’t yours. Imagine if you had accepted the share.” My colleague quipped. I was quite shocked. How naive of me, to just help without asking the right questions. Here are some of the things that should have raised my antennas;

  • Why would someone, tell another of a jackpot, yet only he had seen it? Very strange that they would insist on sharing.
  • This drunk man, remembered the details of the man who had dropped the bundle, in suspect clarity! A red hat, and a sweater draped around the shoulders? First of all men don’t do such details! haha!, I should have known!
  • When I refused to take the deal, he got agitated, even when I told him to have my share, he seemed to insist that we are in this together. Why would someone get so angry?
  • Come to think of it, the supposed receipt from a leading bank in Kenya was not the ones I had seen before…but I didn’t think it a big deal, since there are bank transactions that I have never done.

In hindsight, I only had Ksh. 100 left that day. I don’t know why I didn’t think that Ksh 2000 would help my life, because it would have.

I Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

I am so glad God delivered me from that snare. The whole experience challenged me in ways of honesty and trusting God to provide for when it is uncertain where our sustenance will come from. My greed would have led to me “piercing myself with quite a pang”, it makes me shiver. Be wary of conmen! There are people who are out to use your kind-hearted spirit for their own selfish gains, of course hurting you in the process.

One more thing, challenge yourself to be a genuine helper. One who expects no rewards. When the rewards do come, they will be even sweeter. I know mine was.

Why do snakes exist?

I was recently up at the Samburu National Reserve on a work trip. Our research camp is set on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro which separates The Samburu National Reserve and The Buffalo Springs National Reserve. As you can imagine, this is quite a bush set up, we don’t want to totally change the landscape as we are on wild animal territory. It is their home after all and have full rights to be here. The Samburu team are housed in tents and other temporary structures which a visitor would find very unsettling seeing that the wildlife here roam through the camp quite often. More often than not, elephants, some of whom we know by name like Yaeger and Sarara, graze and browse unmoved as people go about their work. I  have never gotten used to the dazing effect, watching such a huge animal mind his/her business. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get to look at them in the eye, and the feeling is indescribable. You have to experience it yourself.

On one of my first visits up North, I was held captive, pleasantly so, by 3 young male elephants who were casually grazing right next to my room. I panicked and called the camp manager who told me to relax, that they would be on their way as soon as they were done. “Elephants don’t attack unless provoked,” He said. So I sat there, listening to them tug at the grass with their feet and the silent seconds when they would use their trunks to put it into their mouths. I was tempted to open the door and watch them eat, but  decided against it. Instead, I took a chair and climbed to reach up one of the windows. I looked outside and at that particular moment, one of the bulls lifted his head and our eyes met! I almost toppled over, but I held on long enough to take in this moving moment…and as fast as it had happened, it was all over. I don’t think I will ever forget this, ever! It gave a deeper meaning to my work. Sounds silly, I know.

So, as I was saying, I was up there recently and one particular incident has tugged on my heart since. A young girl, about 5 years old was bitten by a snake on her wrist. She was brought to our camp in the dead of the night so we could drive her to the nearest hospital at Archers post. She didn’t last long, hours later, she was dead. I shed a tear, I haven’t felt that sad in a long time. I don’t know what angered me most; the fact that the parents had waited for hours before taking her to hospital, choosing to use some traditional curative method in preventing the poison from spreading, or that snakes…snakes bite people for no particular reason. I mean, lions would kill you then eat you, because they were hungry. Hippos kill you when you get in between them and the water and so on. But snakes bite or spit on you, then slither away. I don’t understand and if I read my Bible in Genesis, they are the devil himself.  It makes quite a lot of sense then, that I can’t stand them, I hate them and they are my biggest fear when I’m in the bush.

A day later we hear of another kid, this time older, who also dies from a snake bite. That night a small cobra was ‘sitting’ resting near the dinner table. I am told as I wasn’t present, that people just looked at it and continued eating unperturbed. It seemed full, they said. Some suggested that they murder it but the others, mostly the White counterparts (not to sound racist or anything close) said it should be left alone. I inquired, and was told it is one of the deadliest snakes and kills with within minutes if no antidote is available. Later on, one of my colleagues meets a huge snake as he was walking to his tent. It was long gone when he came back seconds later with a group of men to finish it off. A search in the nearest bushes yielded nothing.

When one of our American friends heard what had happened, she was pretty upset. She said we had no right to kill the snakes because we were the trespassers here. That we should let them be. I know she makes sense about the territories and all, but what to do when you find yourself living in the same space with them? Should we wait till a snake bites someone then kill it? Even then, have we any right? I don’t know, maybe its my fears talking…but I don’t see how a snake can be conserved for future use 😦 Future use to kill? Ah. I know there are snake lovers out there as well as there are elephant lovers and one would argue that no love is greater than the other…actually I would in favour of elephants 😀 them being keystone species and all; but why do snakes exist? Why the can’t they sense good intention just like elephants and just leave humans alone? I wish God would just call off this snake curse 😦

I am not blind to the deaths elephants have caused, or the yields they have mercilessly trampled on as they ate to their fill…sigh! I guess I am just confused as to why the world ain’t perfect.

What do you think?

 

Inside the Kraal-Part 2

I first went to Turkana in August 2011. I had just began my internship and was immediately thrown into the deep waters…well, yeah. “Deep waters.” It was the hottest time of the year up there and the dehydration was real…but once I got over the heat and the initial culture shock, I realized I was right in the midst of beauty…in place and culture. Long before the oil discovery and the lunar eclipse attractions, Turkana was already amazing.

I got another chance to visit this year, though in a totally different context. Turkana County is big, so I am not doing it any justice by not mentioning the specific places. I know I have them written somewhere…sigh! I am not completely hopeless though. I do know that where I am about to speak of is named Attan. There is an Attan Primary School there where I have had a chance to talk to the children about elephants and why we must save them. Now Attan is so dusty, that I was told(by more than one person, so its credible) that when kids come home from school, the mothers have to wash them to ensure that they don’t have the wrong child. I feel them. After that particular school trip, I needed some identity wash myself.

The Turkana wedding ceremony continued…

A few days ago, I wrote Inside the Kraal-Part 1. A colleague was getting married. I spoke about all the things that baffled me about the Turkana wedding culture and some of it was quite bloody. Today, today we speak happy things. I think being born a lady in Turkana lady is a feat. Really. You are the family’s chief source of wealth. Apparently, you can’t be officially married unless your suitor pays a dowry of at least 50 cows/bulls. At least. It could be more. You can do the ‘come we stay’ thing and even have kids, but you’ll never really be fully married until you are done paying up. Mind you, the cattle dowry cant be brought in form of cash. So imagine a man has 5 daughters. I’ll leave you to do the math. Where is Julie Gichuru when we need ‘Who owns Kenya?’ The Turkanas are almost always at loggerheads with their neighbours over cattle rustling, so you can understand the value they attach to owning a huge number of cattle.

So my colleague had finally finished paying up and this was the day his wife would be handed over to him officially. The ceremony takes place inside the father-in-law’s compound. This man must be real wealthy. He has 4 wives. I am sure he has paid for all of them in full. There are things an outsider’s heart would miss a beat for, like people smiling, posing, next to a bull that has just been speared right in the heart. Outsiders never understand that this,for them, especially the bride and groom is a sign of ownership, freedom…relief.

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Soon after the meat is cut and young men carry it to the bride’s mother’s kitchen in bits. All this time accompanied by songs of praise, joy and sometimes mockery. There was an instance where I almost took to my heels, only to be stopped by an ‘apaiya'(elder)who had accompanied us on this trip. The young men and women from the groom’s side were fighting with the women manning the kitchen on the bride’s side. I could have sworn it wasn’t a mock fight. They were roughing each other up for real. After the assurance that everything was under control, I dropped my city girl-ness and sat down, on the dust, with some women who kept asking me for money in return for taking their pictures. I guess that’s the price you pay for travelling with white friends.

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Oh my! These people can sing and jump for hours. I was already seeing double, this heat again! And there was this man who couldn’t leave me in peace. He wanted me to photograph every little detail and at one time I tried hiding behind one of the huts to catch my breath but he still found me. I forgot he knew these corners more. Anyway, I am told they’ll do it, the dancing, till dusk, till dawn. After the dung ritual explained in part one, the groom is let out of the kraal and led to another corner where he’s to sit with his peers. He is not allowed to leave this spot till the following morning, where his bride, also in a separate location with her peers will be brought to him. the elders will then bless the marriage and they will be allowed to enter their home as newly weds. They must wear their wedding outfits for another four days, because…drat. I don’t remember. I guess to remove any doubt just incase one wasn’t present to witness?

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The Attires

Bride and Groom: The men, in my opinion, end up standing out more than the women. Bummer. They have on colourful lesos and on their heads a headgear made of ostrich feathers and mane. The women on the other hand wear skin. Sigh. They of course have the choice of the colourful beaded jewellery which the bride here used to cinch her waist and define her long neck. I think the men should wear the skins though…lol!

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The rest: Whatever story you’ve heard on the origin of the mohawk, throw it out the window. Here, deep in Turkana land is where it all started. I insist. The women, just like their urban counterparts take time to get ready for such ceremonies. On their hair, they apply some oily mixture and the result is either a red or very black look. Their jewellery is phenomenon. Earrings, necklaces. Look at them. They look quite heavy but I love them. I would have asked for a pair of earrings, but I am quite sure I am not ready for a hole that size on my ear.

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On their feet, well, akalas(shoes made of of tyres). I guess they gave up on this dust a long time ago, because their feet are so cracked, it reminds me of my childhood nanny who used to say she could fit a ‘bob’ through hers.

The men are less traditional. They bring out their Sunday best shirts and pair them with lesos and akalas, of course accesorized with the beautiful shangas and earrings.

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After a great meal punctuated by lots of nyama choma, we took our leave, knowing very well that we were going to miss the main bash. The one that would take place when the sun had set, people dancing to beautiful acapella voices that we’d already sampled and young men ‘tuning’ young girls in some corner, convincing them that their wedding would be much bigger and finally, the bride and groom counting the hours and smiling when the sun’s rays peek at dawn.

Congratulations Wilson and family!!

Photos by Yiwei Wang and Trezer Oguda