Into The Circle

I got a nasty cold last week. A sore throat too. I even lost my voice. I had that hoarse, whispering Batman voice. And there was pain when I spoke. Alot. I thus had to learn how to gesticulate. Oh yes. Big word. I remembered how The Chief communicates, and I thought, this can’t be too bad. So I didn’t wait any longer. I was now grunting and muttering things, and people understood what I meant. I even learnt how to do that point with your lips thing that Kikuyu ladies do. You know that thing. It’s like a duck face, but less silly looking. I learnt to use my eyes too. To give menacing looks. To give orders. To silence people. Speaking is overrated.

If my mom knew I had a cold I’m sure her reaction would have been the same as it’s always been for the past thirty odd years.

You must not have been wearing a sweater. Now look at you.

Only in Africa do sweaters prevent colds.

So yes, despite wearing a sweater,I actually picked this cold from partaking of choice chilled beverages. Not out of any fault of mine. I didn’t go seeking these choice chilled beverages. I have a solid defence. Bear with me, I will explain.

So on the weekend preceding my cold infection, I was to meet some rather crazy but fun group of people I know. They were off on a road trip to Loitoktok. Yes, It’s a place that people take road trips to. I hoped to be part of what was billed to be an epic weekend but somehow I had a pre-planned shindig with the in-laws. Shindig. I like that word.

So as these entertaining people were off to Loitoktok, I was stuck headed to my sister in laws ruracio (bride price negotiationceremony. Not too bad, considering my in-laws are actually a rocking bunch. (No, I was not threatened to write that). There was also going to be food, lots of it. And of course nyama choma. There’s no meal complete in that household without nyama choma.

The missus wanted us to leave early to head to my father in law’s digs, but I pretended to have some random morning errands so that I could sneak in an hour or 2 of sleep. Don’t judge me, It was a Saturday. I’ll be so busted when she reads this.

I eventually made my way to my father in laws place,my belly sufficiently prepared for the indulgence that was going to go down. I took an Uber there so as not to injure Halle Berry (my German machine) on that treacherous South C road. Or rather those craters that masquerade as a road. As in there are craters there that I’m sure can be seen from the moon. I peeped into one as we drove by and I saw the free and fair elections that Cord are protesting over, right next to responsible journalism. Right there, in that crater. Those craters are so many and conjoined, you can get into one and appear on the other side of the road out of another. For real, I saw a probox to that. Those craters…I’ve run out of words. They’re probably in those South C craters.

End of rant. Where was I?

Oh yes. I finally made it to the in laws. The ceremony was great. Lots of food. Songs sung off key. Awkward smiling and waving when people spoke to me in Kikuyu. Reprimands to the missus why I still don’t know Kikuyu. The usual stuff.

The negotiators went into a room to discuss the dowry stuff. The rest of us hung about, chatting, drinking sodas, laughing and making fun of each other. All this as we awaited the ‘white smoke’ that would signal successful negotiations. As we milled about, I kept thinking what it must be to be in that room. What is discussed? Who has that master list of honey, fifty two goats, one hundred cows, blankets, sufurias and lesos? And how do they arrive at those items and there accompanying figures? Will we do the same for our kids? Me I won’t want goats and cows. I want parts for my Land Rover Defender. Or tickets to the Grand Prix in Qatar. Or maybe season tickets to the IRB World Sevens Series. Those ungulates you can keep.

Then the air was pierced by shrill voices of women. White smoke. The deal was done. The family of my new brother in law must have been parted from copious sums of legal tender. Hehe. Now the party could begin. I could hear the crates of beers. Bottles of choice single malt drinks clinked together to indicate they would not be left out of the party. There was even tea and uji for those with softer palates. And sodas, to placate the children.

As the children ran about, one of them, my nephew, came to me and said he had a message for me. I was summoned to partake of some choice chilled beverage. Or as he innocently put it:

Guka says you go and take pombe.

Now, my father in law is the chief derailer. I knew that as soon as I join those wazees the night would go downhill. Besides, I’d had a heavy evening the previous day and so needed not shock my body with more alcohol. I’m a light weight these days. So I didn’t go immediately. My nephew was sent to me a second and third time. The fourth time it was my father in law himself. That was bad. I now had no choice in the matter.

Young man, kwani umekuwa mtoto? Hautaki kakitu?

I have learnt that the father in law loves rhetorical questions. Questions meant to spark action rather than to provide answers.

Ah. Hapana. I was on my way.

Lord forgive me for lying to the old man.

So I joined the wazees. Since he had honoured guests, the single malt whiskeys were for them. I would have the beers instead. As many as required. Without hesitation he asked pointed towards the crate of White Cap Lager and told me to ‘work on it’. Now, if you’ve had a drink with anyone over fifty you know that those guys sip beer like water. I knew this. Out of experience. So I made a wise decision. I told him that I would sit with the other younger guys outside but would come for re-fills of my beer. He begrudgingly agreed, but told me not to be too slow on refilling. One cannot let down the father in law.

And so that’s how I got a cold. Plenty of beer and sitting out in the cold. With a sweater.

I enjoyed it though. It felt nice to be included. To be thought of as one of the men. Part of the wazees. To willy nilly, join their circle, reach into a crate and pull out a lager. And to get that nod of approval. You are one of us.

 

What Will They Say

On a flight to Johannesburg, I’m reading this book about Africa. The State of Africa by Martin Meredith . It’s quite an intriguing read of the history of the continent from colonial times to modern day Africa. It’s packed with stories of despair, hope and disappointments. I thought to myself (as if I could think to anyone else), what kind of legacy did all these leaders intend to leave and why has it gotten to this point? But this is not a political blog and my mind is not built for politics, so that was the end of my question.

Now, whenever I fly I prefer aisle seats and empty planes. Not crowds. I like crowds as much as I like mukimo. I don’t like mukimo.

The problem with aisle seats though, is the lack of privacy. This particular trip I’m watching a movie, earphones plugged in, drink in hand when lo and behold a sex scene comes up. At that very moment the captain of the plane decides to make an announcement about weather or altitude. I forget which. So, my screen freezes and displayed on it is this lady with petite breasts riding the protagonist of the movie. To my left, one row behind, this child starts wailing and i turn around, forgetting I have my earphones on i almost strangle myself, yelp, pour beer on my lap and everyone around me looks at me and there’s my screen displaying porn like scenes. The mother of the child frowned at me unapprovingly.

Thankfully, the young chap from South Africa seated next to me was not as judgemental. Maybe because we were having the same brand of brew. Nothing like a beer to bring together strangers. So we get to talking. (Alas I just had to get the talkative neighbour. Just my luck.) It was a good distraction from judgemental mom behind me though. He spots my book and the conversation moves from beer to politics. African politics. So we trade sob stories of the disappointing political state of our countries.

But you guys are alright. I mean what is Zuma’s folly? Having multiple wive’s?

He laughs. I laugh back.

Well, there’s also the matter of him using public funds to ‘renovate’ his home. He said this drawing inverted commas in the air with his fingers as he said ‘renovate’

Aaah. But that’s normal in Africa. Worse things have happened.

Of course, I didn’t want to go into details of the mind numbing corruption scandals we get faced with in Kenya everyday.

I just wonder what kind of legacy these leaders of ours want to leave us. We have so much potential and just waste it. Eish. 

He could actually mentioned legacy and leadership in the same sentence as African leaders.

But don’t we vote in these people? I felt the need to play devil’s advocate

Yes. Because we’re not empowered as a people. We think that if our person is in power that our live’s will change. It only changes for the person elected and his cronies. Not for the common man.

Ahaaa. I see.

I had nothing to add. Partly because political arguments numb my mind, but mostly because I had to pee and this chap seemed so deep into this argument.

I excuse myself and head to the lavatory. Not before judgemental mom gives me the side eye.

As I get down to handling my business (See what I did there?), I think about judgemental mom. Frowning at me for my choice of cinematic entertainment. Kwani how did she get that wailing kid anyway? Then I think about the African leaders discussion. Why do people discuss politics? For me it’s like when I stub my little toe on some furniture. There’s like 72 seconds of pain, cursing, more pain and more cursing. Then I hobble away. Then I start wondering who put the furniture there, or if I should cut off my toe and never stub it on anything again. Or whether furniture should have protective coverings in case it should so happen to run into a hapless toe. Should there be a commission of enquiry formed? Then when the pain subsides, and all is forgotten. And I move on with life. That’s what I think about political discussions.

Relieved, I leave the lavatory and head back to my seat. Smiling sarcastically at previously wailing child and judgmental mom as I walk by. I take my seat, pop open another beer can and take a sip. My South African neighbour has calmed down and is now thumbing through the duty free magazine.

Maybe it was the sip of beer. Or the unexpected silence now that my neighbour did not continue his rant. I started thinking about the chief, and a discussion we had had the weekend prior to my travel. He had talked about how he was proud that he had educated all his four sons and that they were now all out in the world living their own lives. He’s been getting mushy of late. Which is strange.

As a man, you have to do the basics. Take care of your family and yourself. Leave a mark on the world and leave it better than you found it. Think about what they’ll say when you’re gone. What will your legacy be?

Those words he said had stuck. And kept playing in my head. What will they say indeed.

I wonder if our leaders think of those words. I said that out aloud. Chirpy neighbour looked at me.

I wonder if we have leaders who think about a legacy and what they want to leave for the country or the world.

I said this out loud, consciously this time.

Ei. Ma man. I dont know. But I guess we should just do our bit eh.

We sighed. Together. I put my earphones back on, took a sip of my beer and continued watching my movie.

Soon I nodded off. 1 hour to land. All that talk on legacy and leadership was too much to digest in one flight.

Mama

I detest family gatherings. Let me rephrase, I detest family gatherings that involve extended family. Not for anything, apart from the fact that my mind can only handle so many conversations and personalities.

Family gatherings that involve extended family remind me of being kicked out of my room to make room for an uncle or aunt. At 11 in the night. They remind me of chapatis and lots of Ugali and chicken, but also the need to wash all the soiled dishes. Traumatizing for a child. It’s so bad that if I now do the dishes in my home, the missus knows that I must have been up to some mischief.

And so, when my mother called me from her farm to say she would be in Nairobi and that she will be hosting a family gathering at her Nairobi home to celebrate her retirement, I was as enthused as white paint. Besides, this lady retired like 5 years ago. Anyway, there’s no time like African timing I guess.

Needless to say I made up things to do when the day for the gathering came round. You don’t want to arrive too early, lest you get sent on errands. To buy sodas, salt or maybe cooking oil. You also don’t want to go too late and miss out on the awesome chapatis but yet have to say hello to all those uncles and aunts who you’ve been avoiding. The one’s who send you those text messages asking you to hook one of the village folk a job. 

He’s just finished college and is ready for the world. Si umtafutie kitu hapo ‘Narobi’? 

Surely, I too am looking for ‘something’, heck a lot of things, in this ‘Narobi’.

But of course you feign ignorance and offer those usual excuses.

Aaaaah. Anko! I’ve been so busy. Nimeshikana sana na job. Si you know how Narobi is. Kupambana kila siku.

Why we’re always battling and pushing in this city, I’ll never know. Kupambana, Kuskumana. Never just living and enjoying life. But I guess that’s a post for another day.

Relatives can also be unbearable at times. Another reason I’m not a fan of family gatherings. There’s always that buxom aunt who will look at you, smile and declare that your wife is doing a good job, obviously in reference to that Tusker t-shirt that hugs you like its life depended on it. Seams barely holding the garment together. 

No. That’s not health. I’m fat. Overweight. In fact at my age, according to Google, in danger of many lifestyle diseases. 

This same aunt will then say hello to the missus and give her that quizzical look, poking her tummy. 

Ehe? Bado? Kwani what are you guys waiting for? We need grandchildren. We’re not getting any younger.

Then you have to have that awkward smile and pinch the missus arm before she says something unsavoury. 

Pole pole auntie. We’re still on honeymoon; you’ll quip, trying to dilute the tension.

Of course, you realise you’re better off playing with you’re young nephews and nieces. At least they don’t judge. Except for that one niece who points at what you call a chest and laughs out loud saying ‘Haha. Anko has nyonyo’. Those nieces aren’t cool. Yet you’ll still buy them Queen Elsa and Princess Anna dolls and such like.

Don’t ask how I know these things. Frozen is a cool cartoon.

Family gatherings aren’t too bad though, there’s some reprieve. There’s that one cool uncle who will hang out with you and your cousins. The one who will say he has a bottle of Johnnie Walker in the car (or his suit) and you’re all invited for a sip or four. The one who’ll say the family gathering is boring and that we should leave for a nearby nyama choma joint or bar or both.

Then of course there are the cousins. And the divide; the cousins from up country and the cousins from Nairobi. The fun cousins. The quiet cousins. The cousin who says Wesley Snips instead of Wesley Snipes. The cousin who just got off drugs. The cousin who’s the same age as you but got married at 19 and has 4 kids, the youngest who made a quip about your man boobs. You don’t like that cousin. He seems to know everything. Then there’s your cousin who was young and awkward last you met and now she’s blossomed into a curvy lady. You bumped into her and her pals in the club a few weeks ago and ‘turned up a good one.’ 

This family gathering was different though. It was in her honour anyway. But that wasn’t it. It was when her siblings got up to speak. And said all these amazing things she did for them. How she sacrificed going to college (despite getting good grades), to join secretarial school so that she could get a job and put her siblings through school. And she did, take them through school.

How she housed, clothed and fed her younger siblings as they went to school. How she used the money that she and her young husband had saved for a baby cot for their first born child to pay school fees for her brother. 

How she was and continues to be the big sister that they cherish and adore. The glue that keeps the family together. Slow to anger and quick to assist where she can. Her needs put aside until everyone is well catered for.

I knew my mom was awesome. I mean, who doesn’t think their mom is awesome. But I was taken aback with tribute after tribute. I almost shed a tear. But the chief spotted me, and that tear crawled right back where it came from.

When it came to her turn to speak she, characteristically, said few words. She thanked God. She thanked her siblings, her parents, her children. And her husband. The chief himself. I think I spotted a blush, from him. Ok, he grunted. But it was a blush grunt. If ever there’s such a thing. She said that above all, she wouldn’t be the person everyone said she is, without him. Without his support. His love. More blush grunts.

I learnt a valuable lesson that day. So the Chief is capable of love. And support. And all those mushy things. No wonder mom was awesome. Is awesome. 

Happy mother’s day to mom; wife of the Chief. And may the Chief and I and other men support these wonderful, strong women in our lives to be the best they can be.