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!”

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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.

 

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Does Kenya Need a New Independence Day?

12th December is Jamhuri Day in Kenya.

Jamhuri is the Swahili word for “republic” and the holiday is meant to officially mark the date of Kenya’s independence which happened on 12 December 1963.

A majority of Kenyans however, do not feel like the past 53 years offer much in celebration, what with corruption scandals being the order of the day. The health sector is in crisis, and the country mourns the death of at least 40 people killed in a highway explosion this past Saturday. In fact, as the President leads the country in celebration at the Nyayo National Stadium in nation’s capital, a group is at the City Centre, protesting. According to a poster doing rounds online, they are urging citizens to “#TakeBackKenya and take a stand against corruption.”

(As Reported by Standard Media on Twitter) BREAKING NEWS: Police use teargas to disperse a protest dubbed #TakeBackKenya along Moi Avenue, Nairobi; three people arrested

So is Kenya really free? One Dr. Wandia Njoya, a lecturer at a local university, offers her thoughts.

“Jamhuri Day, 2016. We’re supposed to be celebrating independence and nationhood. But Kenya feels less like a nation and more like a den of hustlers and crooks. The majority hustle while the minority loot. Nationhood is supposed to affirm our maturity and our ability to plan and run our own lives. Instead, we now suffer a medical strike about which we were forewarned, and 40 people have died in a road disaster that was shocking, but that has been in the making. We Kenyans have been unable to build a civilization, planting trees under whose shade we will not sit.

The United States celebrates its independence on 4th July, when some white men, some of them slaveholders, wrote a declaration of independence. France commemorates its revolution on 14th July, when French citizens stormed the Bastille prison, an icon of the monarchy. Haiti celebrates independence on 1st January, when Dessalines declared the nation of slaves to be free, and renamed the country after the indigenous people who had been wiped out. It is only in Africa where independence is celebrated on the date when the oppressors shook our hands and pretended to “hand over” nationhood to us. No wonder Lumumba had to remind the Congolese that they were not receiving independence from Belgium; they were commemorating their struggle.

We need a new date for independence.1 One whose pictures are of Kenyans raising fists in the air, or asserting their own freedom, not of Prince Philip handing over a paper to Kenyatta because the head of state, Queen Elizabeth, did not even consider Kenya a state with a head whose hand was worth shaking.

When Kenya has the revolution, I hope she will change the date of independence from the date when Prince somebody handed over the colonial mantel to Kenyatta, to a date when Kenyans asserted their freedom and humanity. A day besides the 12th of December whose fruits of independence are not even bitter. They’re poisonous.”

Dr. Wandia Njoya

An egg and a bangle

There is nothing as satisfying as gradually seeing a child’s face go from “I really don’t know what you are talking about” to lighting up with understanding. To see eager hands raised ready to answer questions or ask some more. For anyone charged with passing out knowledge and skills, this (in my opinion) is the ultimate.

We were out on an education trip in Samburu County, an area called Chumviere. As usual, I was there to document, in photos and video, the mobile education lessons that Save the Elephants conducts up north.  My back was killing me, thanks to the rocky path that we like to call a road. I enjoy these sessions, but on this particular day, I simply wanted to get back to camp and rest. Just before we ended the lesson, my colleagues suggested I take over the question and answer session, to test the students’ comprehension and grasp of the topic. We had gifts too. So anyone who answered correctly got some sort of stationery item. Soon, the classroom was a delightful spectacle; with  hands flying, students running to the chalkboard to label something and trying to outdo each other on speed tests.

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Photo: R.J Walters

It wasn’t long before we had run out of gifts. To wrap up, I decided to give a short pep talk on sharing and gratitude. I love it when I have a chance to impart more than curriculum to the kids. Values will take you further than anything you might learn from the normal school syllabus. I think.

 

“Teacher Trezer!”

I heard someone call out as I walked back to the car. I turned to see a tall, slender boy running towards me. I wondered what I had forgotten. I felt my pocket for my mobile phone and did a quick scan inside the brown box I was carrying; I couldn’t tell, so I waited.

He was almost out of breath when he got to me. I sensed some hesitation as he reached into his pocket and held out towards me a yellow bangle and an egg. I looked at the contents of his hand, then at his face. What was this?

As if sensing my unspoken need for clarification, the timid smile on his lips gave way to these words…

“I thought about what you said in class, about giving even when you could do with more yourself, and always saying thank you. Please accept this as my thank you to you for coming to Chumviere today.”

I stood there, lost for words, as his eyes pleaded with me to accept the gifts. I did. It took a lot not to tear up…(I can be a cry baby :D)…because this was, and still is the sweetest gesture anyone has ever extended to me. Raw and genuine. A bangle and an egg don’t seem like much, but coming from this young man, they spoke volumes. Eggs are such a luxury in these parts. I could even imagine the kind of meal he had envisioned  having after school, but here he was giving it to me. I don’t know why he chose the bangle though; maybe he thought the egg would be too little a gift by itself. Whatever his reasons were, I was moved.

I wore my bangle immediately and didn’t take it off for the duration of the week long trip. Every time I got frustrated about the heat, dust storms and long days, my yellow bangle would remind me about the ‘why’ and the impact on these great minds. This young man’s small act had succeeded in getting me to appreciate that what would seem like ‘just another day at work,’ is in fact an opportunity to inspire.

What a world it would be, if everyone of us was as receptive as this boy was! If each one of us acted out on what we know as right, and strive to see, do and commend the good around us. What a world it would be! How about I start practicing what I preach? Here, catch!

“Thank you for stopping by and taking time to read 🙂 I hope it was worth your time. Remember,  you’ve got the ammunition to make someone smile today. Do it! You will be happy you did :)”

 

 

Remembering Tom

Everyone knew Tom. He was the dark-skinned guy who sat outside a tailoring shop along the infamous Kanu Street in Nakuru County. He sat on the ground, always surrounded by heaps and piles of shoes.  His little space was fenced by three wooden benches, where clients waited while he worked. Next to him was a shoe shiner.

Tom owned a bicycle, which to me was the only indication that he was not crippled. Not once did I see him up on his feet. He worked on the shoes throughout the day. His hands had over the years been darkened and hardened by the leather and glue. His index finger was like a glue stick, he could never wash that stuff off. I knew he came from my tribe, because sometimes, I heard him speak the same language my mum and dad spoke.

Tom was a constant. I think he went to church on Sundays… I am not sure, but other than that, he never missed a day of work. He would be there when I came home from school and on Saturdays too when the neighborhood kids ran round the dusty Freehold Estate. In the evenings, men would gather at his base and discuss politics. My father was one of the men. At dusk, Tom would pack all the shoes into a sack and store them inside that tailoring shop.

My family was neither poor nor rich. We were not average either. If there is a class between poor and average, we were it. My siblings and I would be required, by circumstances, to be extra careful with our school shoes. School shoes would by extension serve as Sunday best, especially for the boys. It was therefore paramount that they last till we outgrew them. We loved playing football, so we found a way to play bare feet. No hustle. But kids will always be kids, and we would forget and kick at rocks and climb trees till the shoes laughed. We would get a good beating, and then get sent to Tom with two shillings, sometimes more, depending on how hard the shoe had laughed. Our shoes survived the 90s because, Tom.

Once, my father, who worked for the government, got a transfer to Oyugis town. We parked our bags and moved from the Rift Valley to Nyanza province.  When we moved back two years later, Tom was still there. For over 15 years, he sat with the shoes during the day, entertained guests in the evenings and then went home when the sun went down.

Then Tom died.

I was in the university when I got the news. I didn’t cry. I can’t quite describe what I felt, but if I am to try, I would say a profound sense of loss. When Tom died, he took with him a chunk of my childhood. He was one of the few connections I still had with a childhood I treasure so much. In hindsight, no one ever said they wanted to be Tom when they grew up. We all wanted to be doctors and engineers and pilots. We did not think anyone could do Tom’s job. It was his. Tom was an institution.

People like Tom are not supposed to die.

I found out today, while reminiscing about Tom with my mum, that he was Ja Kano (one from the Kano plains in Nyanza). That is where he was buried. My father is Ja Kano too, which makes me Nya Kano. Mum says Tom’s work was so good; there wasn’t another cobbler for miles. Everyone brought their shoes to him. He was diligent, faithful. During the weekends, a cobbler friend of his, Ja Alego, would move from his base in the Central Business District and come sit with Tom. The unspoken truth was that Tom was king, and he had quite a following.

Today, as I sat on a bench in Nairobi, waiting for Onyango to repair my blue sandals, I missed Tom. It is six years since he passed on. I see him now, his long experienced fingers intricately stitching my Bata shoes. He doesn’t say much. His short hair is brown from the notorious Nakuru dust. Now I notice the lines on his forehead. I think of his throne back home. His son sits on it. He lives.

Today, 20th October, is Mashujaa Day in Kenya; Heroes Day. Today I remember Tom.

 

**First published on akomanet.com on 20th October 2016

#WorthMoreAlive: I like that we are talking about elephants, rhinos and wildlife conservation in general…

For about a month or so leading up to the April 30th ivory burn at the Nairobi National Park, wildlife conservation discussions have been trending. Local media houses have been assigning some much needed and deserved, airtime and attention to this important conversation. With increased coverage, came increased interest about human wildlife conflict, poaching, Eco-tourism and development. Kenyans started asking questions, giving opinions and suggesting solutions to identified challenges. I have always held the opinion that only a select few care about the Kenya’s wildlife heritage, so it was quite refreshing to watch as people actively partook of the conversation online. As the historic date drew near, the conversations began revolving around the ivory burn. Was it the best option? How was burning the ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products going to help stop poaching? Was it an exercise in futility?

When President Ian Khama of Botswana unveiled an elephant sculpture made of ivory in July 2015, it stirred up the conservation circles somewhat. Some thought it a brilliant idea that Botswana had decided to put up this monument, while other were of the exact opposite opinion. Botswana’s Minister for Environment is quoted as saying, “It serves as a reminder to people who pass through this building each day that conservation of this iconic species is our collective responsibility. Complemented with a conservation awareness message, we are saying that one live elephant is worth so much more than all the art made of ivory. The statue is a lasting memorial to raise local, national and global awareness of the devastating impact of illegal ivory and the determination of Botswana and the global community to put an end to it.” After about a fortnight of ensuing debate, the noise settled. The towering monument still greets guests at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.

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BOTSWANA , Gaborone 16 July 2015, Botswana president let Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama officially unveils the live size Elephant Sculpture of ivory at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone on 16 July 2015. The ivories come from the elephants which died naturally. (PHOTO/MONIRUL BHUIYAN)

This week, almost a year later, the photo of the monument started popping up on my Facebook timeline with captions like, “This is very creative, maybe Kenya should do this instead of burning the ivory.” One particular post had over five hundred shares. The reactions were as varied as they come. Majority felt enlightened and immediately endorsed the idea; maybe a museum of sorts would work? Others said no. Then there was a group that said, “Why bother? Everything in Kenya is stolen. Soon, the only thing that will remain is the glass surrounding it.” Ha! There is always that breed of people, you know, ones who seem to have resigned to some sort of self imposed fate. Before putting my thoughts down on several posts, I just took a moment to be grateful the WE are actually talking about this! In mass! Now, we just need to arm ourselves with the right information.

It is now hours after smoke filled the skies at the Nairobi National Park as President Uhuru Kenyatta led his Gabonese counterpart Ali Bongo and other dignitaries in lighting up the 105 ton heaps of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. The debate is still as hot as the fire that still burns what is estimated to include the remains of 8000 elephants and 345 rhinos. Why burn? Why not a museum?

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I must admit, up until three and a half years ago, I was completely oblivious of the plight of elephants and rhinos in Kenya, and indeed Africa. As I took up an internship position at an elephant conservation NGO, I told myself that it was only temporary; that I would soon get bored an take up something better. I did not anticipate falling in love with elephants as I watched BBC’s ‘Secret Life of Elephants,’ sobbing as Maasai girl’s two calves nudged their dead mum to wake up. The roller coaster of emotions being extended to the field, looking in awe as they walked majestically into the sunsets or, in more tragic situations, staring at one lying in a pool of blood, half its face chopped off. I was never quite the same. I started caring. I caught feelings 😀

My interest grew with every passing day, discovering and learning about why we bother about saving elephants. Today, I speak from a point of information, and most importantly, I reckon, real experience. There are people who will speak about the economics of poaching, a really important aspect no doubt, but I like to appeal to the heart. Pick up a documentary that will show you uncensored footage and photos of mutilated bodies of elephants/rhinos lying in a bloody pool. Watch elephants mourn their dead. Then take a trip and see them, alive, in their splendor. If you still feel nothing…if you are still giving that ivory monument a moment of thought…Doing what Botswana did, I think, just makes ivory look attractive. It breaks my heart, but to other twisted people it displays class. I see no difference between that and a carved piece of ivory in a living room in China. I prefer a live elephant thriving in a national park, living to its old age. Now that’s a worthy monument.

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Elephants at the Samburu National Game Reserve Photo: Daryl Balfour

We, Kenyans, have come of age, having such discourses. I hope the media does not stop with the coverage after the burn. Pray, we need to keep talking about this within our circles, engaging each other on how to make things better. Read about all the organizations working on the ground and read about what they are doing. I feel that if we, Kenyans, start caring enough we will hold our leaders accountable for things as corruption and consequently, poverty and other factors fueling poaching. We need to stop thinking about ivory conservation and re-ignite efforts aimed towards wildlife management and conservation. To purpose never to have a day like this one, because there will be nothing to burn. In a nutshell find a spot, in your own capacity and #Stopthekilling#StopTheTrafficking and #StopTheDemand for ivory and other wildlife products. The burn alone might not achieve the desired results, but with collaborated efforts between governments (this means you and I, as it does elected leaders) and conservation groups, as well as embarking on conservation education, I am confident of success. The economist will chip in. You will get involved. It will be a concerted effort, everyone doing what they can. This way, we will proactively work towards ensuring future generations SEE these species in their full glory, ALIVE, not lifeless, as a heap of ivory. That, in my opinion, makes more sense than an ivory museum. Otherwise, people will keep killing and we will keep confiscating and building ivory towers. It is pointless. As someone rightly said in one of the Facebook posts,

“Ivory for any other purpose than being on a live elephant is repugnant.”

Elephants and rhinoceroses may be large, heavy and thick-skinned, but they are being threatened with extinction in the wild by poaching for their ivory or horn, and by human impact on their habitats. You need to join the fight and help secure their future.

Pssst! I’ll start you off with sites you need to visit 🙂

  1. http://www.savetheelephants.org, Save the Elephants on Facebook
  2. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
  3. Tsavo Trust
  4. Amboseli Trust for Elephants 

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…)

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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.