I went home last month. I had to. There was no way I could sit idly in the city yet things have been happening back home. First Alaine shot the video about Wafula (This video about Wafula is a story for another day. But what do bodaboda people have? What charm do they really own? Is it their arms? Their strength? Have you ever seen how confident they are and how they ride up a steep terrain like some action movie star? ), then somebody hang on a chopper, another one cycled for miles like Israelites in the desert, to watch Bukembe Boys play football and then circumcision period, young boys ringing bells and taking the cut (read www.chingano.com/taking-the-cut/) and the final blow, Webster Wechuli, decided to show interest vying for woman rep post yet he is a man. I felt left out, like I was getting sidelined in trivial matters in my own homeland and not witnessing things first hand. So early in the morning, now that God has not yet blessed me with a mutoka, but He will sooner than you finish laughing at me, I took a public van. I know you have read enough about matatu chronicles, so I will spare you the repetition. But I have to mention that travelling home is the best thing that can happen to you. My tribes-people cannot allow you to sleep in peace. They engage you extensively so that by the time you alight, you know he has 2 wives, many bright children and wonders if you would like to be his 3rd wife.
During my one week stay, I ate three whole chickens, alone. When you go home after months, it is only prudent, fair and reasonable to welcome the guest cordially with the expected things. I know you are thinking of how indeed there are people on an eating program. Oh how true it actually is of women from those sides competing favorably with men when it comes to clearing food. I don’t care really. I already ate and there is nothing we can do about it. I ate the chickens, not in one sitting though.
Not to brag but people respect me in the village. When I pass by a homestead, a mother gathers all her girls pointing at me and telling them to be like me when they grow up. Yeah. You people here think am just a regular, random girl with a random lifestyle and zero goals. Back home, I am a little heroine.
So when I passed by Mama Janet’s home on my way to the market, she kidnapped me into her mud-house. She begs me to take a cup of tea as I object strongly, stating that I do not want to burden her. She rebukes me that tea is just water, so I oblige. As I down the thermos of tea, I hear her call out “Chaneti! Chuta! Sitela! Cha mutile khakokho!” My heart leapt with joy. She had called Janet, Juda and Stella to chase the biggest chicken and bring it. That is how I became a proud owner of a chicken. I later engaged the 3 children, advising then to work hard in school and be good children. They asked many questions about Nairobi, if the buildings are actually very tall, if there are mud houses too, if somebody can ride a bicycle there, about the robbers who killed people in a building called Westgate… Mama Janet, like any other woman in my village, handed me the heavy chicken, dispraising it and underrating the token. “Take this small chick with you to Nairobi for my son-in-law”. Do not be fooled. The “chick” is a heavy chicken which has lain over 60 eggs which hatched into many other chickens, is a grandmother to 100 more chickens. She assumes I have a husband and at this rate I regret not having children because Mama Janet would have probably given me several chickens. But aisuru.
She sees me off up to the anthill. Anthills are sacred. They house termites, which are very delicious and taste like manna. I hope manna was sweet. I know it was. Something falling from heaven is sweet.
I reach the market and bump into 3 old men. Kuka Fredi, Kuka Juma and Kuka Peter. Kuka Fredi is evil. He was my nightmare when I was a teenager. It is like he possessed some magical powers. Every time I stood behind a bush talking to a boy, his all-seeing eye spotted me. He would crawl home and inform my mother, so that by the time I arrived home, my parents would pounce on me fiercely and beat me mercilessly to the point of death. “Unatafuta mimba?” My dad would bellow. “Uwiii! Staki aibu,” my mother would scream kicking me. This would happen so quickly and after 5 minutes, everybody would be panting. You can imagine by the time people pant, si they must have been doing a strenuous activity? I was fleshy, so those whips, blows, kicks and slaps landed painfully and sank deeply into my flesh. So you see why I developed thick skin? My buttocks still have marks. One day, Mr. Pamba, one day I will revenge when I slap you with keys to your new house, thanking you.
So Kuka Fredi is not one of my favorites. I still have harbored deep-seated resentment for him. Kuka Peter was a good watchman, who would give us sugarcane every evening. Kuka Juma is a drunk, who has always been eulogizing Masinde Muliro, calling him the cock that still crows. But when he sees a woman passing and has worn trousers, he calls upon ancestors to strike her dead. Today he was sober. So they giggled and glowed when they saw me, each of them trying to remind me of a memory we shared. I gave them a cheesy smile, trying to look impressed then handed each of them a crumbled note. It is the unspoken rule that you give the devil his due, especially because of the valuable role they played in my upbringing.
I finally reach the butchery and buy meat and in front of the butchery is Mayi Jeni’s pathetic kibanda at the verge of collapsing. She erupts on seeing me and grabs me in her arms. When she finally lets go off me, she switches to a mixture of Bukusu and Swahili.
“Umepotelea wapi Mayi?”
“Mayi wabeela?” (Mum, are you married)
“Ummm Mayi karibu naolewa.”
“Judy aliolewa na miaka shurini… ne ewe se wabisia shurini?” (My daughter Judy got married at 20. Aren’t you over 20?)
“Kholaka onyole omusecha. Namwe hujui kupika?” (Make haste and find a husband or don’t you know how to cook)
“Namanya Mayi.” (I know how to cook, mother) I say now painfully. Am I that late? Like really Mayi Jeni? You see in my village, you are everybody’s business and people volunteer to give advice or state “plain” truth without hesitation or the thought of them prying over you space/privacy. They do not know privacy. You belong to the community. I take some tomatoes and as I am leaving, she shouts, “Umesahau chenji.”
“Mayi sikala ne nayo. Kula esukari.” (Keep the change mother and buy sugar) I shout. She breaks into a song, praising me. I board a taxi and head home, thanking God I was in the village anyway. I hope we all know taxi here means bicycle. The days flew by at this unfair speed and before I knew it, I was in a public van returning to Nairobi, sighing, grumbling and afraid of Nairobi’s hostility.
*Kuka means grandfather.
*Mayi means mum