Three’s Company

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A man’s home is his castle. His place of refuge after toiling away in the hard, harsh world. Even in cave man days, the man’s cave or lair was very important in the socialization of the times. Picture it, after a day of hunting and gathering, the man would head back to the cave, and in the illumination of the fire light he would draw on the walls images of his conquests. As a form of communication to his woman. She’d read and interpret his drawings and be happy that he has shared what his day was like. (Cave explorers today still find these illustrations on cave walls). The cave man didn’t have to give in to further interrogation by his woman. She didn’t ask him to explain in detail every illustration. She simply smiled and served him some bone soup and chunks of roast meat of the animal he had brought home earlier. But the cave woman evolved. And she invented language. And man’s life changed forever. To this day women have a monopoly on the spoken word and man forever struggles to keep up. Since then, every man has to spend hours upon getting home to describe his day in detail to his woman. Since then, man has never known peace at home.

And so I have always treasured my home as such. As my castle. My refuge. It has been so even through the years I’ve been married. The missus knows when to engage me in banter and when to maintain silence. She’ll see it on my face. I have a forthright demeanor and she has learnt to interpret it. She sees the aura of non-conversation around me and tip toes around it. And this has worked. But things changed recently. We got a nanny, (or is it Domestic Manager? I hear they’re called domestic manager these days. Not mboch, or house help. Why? Because it’s 2018. You need to season your language with the right amount of political correctness). The nanny is not for me. For the soon to be new member of our family. I was not party to the process. I was an FYI on an email. CC’d into that information. One day we were two in the house, the next we were three.

The missus called me one fine day.

I got a nanny.

Ati nani?, I replied confused.

Yeah.

Who is nani? You see the missus has that peculiar Kenyan habit habit of using pro-noun placeholders like nani, nini, kerea, ginene, thingamajig and such like.

No. A nanny. As in En Ay double En Y, she responded

Ohhh. I knew. I was just messing with you. I lied.

Reality began to sink in. For the first time in many years, I cannot walk naked in my own home. I cannot hang loose so to speak. For the first time I feel like a prisoner under house arrest. I walk around humming Lucky Dube’s Prisoner hit much to the chagrin of the missus. No longer can I make unclothed midnight trips to the kitchen for a snack. Or make that awkward hunched walk looking for a towel after a shower. Looking like Adam after discovering he was naked. The missus has a habit of washing towels every two days. Why? I don’t know. I mean, how can they be dirty? Aren’t they used to wipe your body AFTER you shower? And I never know where they’re stored afterwards. I really don’t understand women sometimes. Ok, most of the time.

It doesn’t matter how big your house is. An extra person in it will shrink it. Boundaries get re-defined. I feel odd poking around the kitchen for a snack, or my ritualistic peeking into the fridge for not reason in particular. I feel watched. It’s like watching porn in an empty house, you still lower the volume even though you know you’re alone. I creep around my own house like a pest trying to avoid detection.

It feels odd walking into the kitchen nowadays. I can tell the missus to make me a mini ugali. Ugali sosa. Or ugali slider. Depending on which side of Nairobi River you hail. But I can’t tell the nanny (or Domestic Manager) that.   The other day I had ordered in some super nyama fry from the local nyama choma joint. All it needed was some ugali. The missus was in a bit of a mood (hormones possibly), so I had to make the ugali myself. But the domestic manager was in the kitchen. I couldn’t tell her to make me ugali. Protocol I learnt from the Chief didn’t allow it. So I had to ask the missus to tell the domestic manager to make the ugali. Eating ugali made by foreign hands is new I tell you. I had no choice though. The take over of the castle was well under way.

And so it is. My castle has become my lodging. A tiny dwelling where I eat and sleep and grunt to myself. My snore is subdued. My roar no longer echoes along the walls. I desire the outdoors more. To hunt and explore the lands. Then come home to a meal and a place to lay my head. And to think the young one is yet to make an appearance in this world. How much smaller shall my castle be? Those more experienced tell me the young one takes over your life. I wonder, is it like those National Geographic shows on lions, where the younger lions take over the pride? Let’s wait and see.

 

The Case For The Male Baby Shower

 

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I’m jealous. A couple of weeks back, the missus had a baby shower to prepare her for this journey of motherhood. How thoughtful, isn’t it? She got all this advice and lots of baby related stuff. Blankets, diapers, more blankets. Ten different shower gels so that she gives birth smelling of hibiscus flowers and not placenta. Fancy stuff like breast pumps. Apparently, the modern human lady produces excess breast milk and needs to express it lest it fills up her breasts. Bottomless breast milk I think it’s called.

You should have seen my house when she got back.  It was filled with bags, upon bags of all this fancy stuff for her and the baby. What did I get you ask? A few hugs and numerous ‘aaawwww’ s from her lady friends. That’s it. Not even a wallet. Which has to be the most purchased men’s gift ever. It’s like saying, I’ve given you a place to put money. Now go get some money.

The chief had warned me about the loneliness that comes with being a man, a husband, a father. I don’t think I’d fully comprehended that warning. Nowhere in those 25 odd bags was a cigar. A six pack. A bottle of rare scotch. A sack of money. Nothing. I secretly rummaged through the stuff in the middle of the night as the missus snored away. I only came up with fluffy stuff and disappointment.

I sat there in the room, dimly lit by the backlight of my phone. The light silently mocking me. Illuminating the gift bags around me. Then, for the first time I felt it. Barely illuminated too. The loneliness. I thought to myself. How come I didn’t have a shindig for me? In fact I’ll plan it. Not a strip club though. That probably doesn’t enhance the idea of responsibility and fatherhood. And no, it’s no place to practice spanking bottoms.

It would be a manly place. A cabin in the woods maybe. With no trimmings of modernity. No electricity, no wifi, no ‘network’. Only Kenyans say such things. ‘Hakuna network’. The network is there, it’s your reception that has a problem. Those are the same people who call transport ‘means’. ‘Pole, sikukuja. Sikuwa na means’. The full phrase is means of transport. Not means. If you wanted to shorten the phrase, why didn’t you just choose the word transport?

Where was I? Yes, a secluded place. With no network reception. Away from wives and side pieces. Lots of beers and whiskey and cigars. There would be a chef too. To barbecue steak. Chicken for those white meat aficionados. Manly food full of cholesterol and succulent sweetness. There would be an option for no chef too. To allow the men to take control of how they want their steak roasted.

It would be a place to have men just chatting, laughing and taking time away from the thing called life that has all odds stacked up against them. A chance for the soon to be father to take it easy before diving into that storm called fatherhood. A chance for the current fathers to unwind but also to lay out wisdom and experiences in weathering that storm. A mix of the old and the young should be there. For wisdom doesn’t only inhabit grey topped heads.

Gifts? Men aren’t complicated. Money, would be good. A little something to lighten the impending load. Contacts of reliable doctors or hospitals or insurance covers that can work towards the future of the little one. More importantly, a support circle to enable raise these children. When did we lose these traits as Africans? When did the family unit become so small and measured that young boys and girls feel lost in an ever changing and demanding world?

A night would be sufficient for this. Men can only stay cooped up so long together without the need for some sports or the entertainment of women. Questionable or otherwise. It would be a time to laugh at our problems and wives and lives. For some, those are one and the same thing. Hehe. It would be a time to kick back and reflect without the din of ever shrieking demons of bills and responsibilities. A time to escape, albeit for a moment, the pressures of business and chasing payments. Is it just a Kenyan thing? Where people obtain goods and/or services and refuse or ignore to pay thereafter? It’s grossly unethical in my opinion. In this country you’ll have more success bleeding a stone than chasing down what you’re owed.

The night would be filled with the smells of whiskey and cigars and punctuated by laughter and wisdom.  Of course, once in a while there’d be the off course tangent of discourse on sports trends and the related insults depending on the team one supports.  And war stories of women pursued. And that’s ok. There will be memories of less responsible days gone by, of youth and the folly that comes with it. And everyone will lament how time flies and stare down in silence and disbelief at how far they’ve come. Someone will break the uncomfortable silence and stand, a glass raised in hand:

Cheers guys. Here’s to progress. Here’s to the bullets we dodged and the ones that caught us. Here’s to our sons and daughters. May we ever be present for them. May they hear our roar from a distance and know that we’re men. May our spouses warm our beds…

Or not nag when we seek other warmed beds, someone will quip. There’s always that clande advocate in a group.

And everyone will shout him down. You guy be serious bana. We’re trying to make a toast. The ruccus would taper off into murmurs and soft laughter.

The toast maker would conclude, Cheers bros. Here’s to fatherhood.

Cheers. Would be the group response in acclamation followed by the clinking of glasses, murmurs and loosely coordinated swigs of drink.

Thereafter the night would proceed with a less serious agenda. Men breaking up into different groups of influence. The cars guys, the sports guys, the work and careers guys, the business guys and the random banter guys. And at various stages all these guys will gravitate towards the talk of women. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

As the new father to be, you would go home armed with wisdom, allayed fears and the courage to face your family. Also, your pockets would be slightly heavier which can’t be a bad thing. And the missus will ask,

How was your “guys” thing?

And you’ll respond as only men do.

It was ok. Plop yourself on the couch and turn on the TV. Please get me some water.

She’ll amble off to the kitchen and you’ll both smile in the collective knowledge that everything is going to be alright.

 

Flying Blind

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The chief didn’t prepare me to be a father. To be a chief. He didn’t tell me what would happen when I’d be expecting a little one. What it would feel like. The seemingly eternal and mind numbing internal battles. The responsibilities after the orgasm so to speak. After the conception. I now get why he always had a permanent scowl for a face. Like he’d taken a shot of Camino tequila. (Never take Camino tequila by the way. That is the devil’s piss – dabble in Jose Cuervo if you can. Or if your wallet is on the heavier side, Don Julio)

So, what brought me to this realisation? Well, some time last year I found out I’m going to be a father. Thankfully,legally and not from stolen fruit. Hehe. It was shocking at first, for the sole reason that it wasn’t planned. A story I shall delve into one day.

It was a pleasant shocker. Sort of like if you’re home alone, and bored and hungry and you hear the doorbell ring. You open it and a KFC delivery guy is before you. The Brown bag in his hand barely sealing the pleasant smell of the Colonel’s deep-fried chicken. Then he asks:

Hapa ni kwa Joyce. You say no.

He retrieves his mobile phone from his large black leather biker jacket, dials a number and puts it on speaker. The dial tone rings thrice and a sultry voice answers.

Hello?

Habari Joyce, the delivery guy replies. Huyu ni Karanja wa KFC. Niko kwa mlango yako.

Eh Mlango gani? Her voice sounds like lavender. Like she drinks hot lemon ginger tea daily and her tongues rests on velvet.

Ya nyumba yako. A6 Sijui kama huyu ni Bwana wako hapa?

You look at him confused.

She replies that she’s not married but she’s looking.

My last boyfriend was about as exciting as a minji samosa, she replies. The disdain in her voice filters through Karanja’s phone.

As Karanja looks confused, you smile and wonder who should be killed first. The person who discovered minjis or the one who put them in a samosa.

Then she asks if her husband is hot?

The KFC delivery guy taken aback says, Eeeh. Sijui. Anakaa mwanamume tu. Kitambi sio kubwa sana so I think ako na pesa kiasi.

You suck in your gut and wonder if this is a prank?

She asks to talk to you.

Karanja gives you his phone and you do that awkward thing when you handle someone else’s phone. You don’t really grab it but hold it lightly at your finger tips. Like it was a handkerchief.

Hello? 

Hi. I’m Joyce. I hear you’re my husband?

Urrm. So I gather, you reply

Uuu..Polished too. Who uses the word gather in normal conversation?

You both laugh. Karanja shifts his feet impatiently.

Anyway, I gather, she sniggers as she says it, that my KFC order has come to you. I used to live there, and forgot to change my location for delivery on this delivery app. Since it’s a wife’s duty to feed her husband, I’ll let you have it. 

You’re taken aback. Not because of the free offer of food, but because you don’t hear many people talk about traditional duties like that anymore.

You utter an Awwww. Thank you dear. I had some minji stew in the fridge I was to heat up, but this will certainly do the trick.

Haha. Minjis are good. Just not in a samosa. Anyway, enjoy the meal hubby.

Urrrm. You too, you respond embarrassingly.

She laughs and hangs up.

You hand back the phone to the delivery guy and take the package. You give him a hundred bob tip and he walks away shaking his head. Muttering to himself, Hii Nairobi kweli ina mambo.

So there you are with unsolicited deep-fried chicken. That’s how it feels like when you get a baby that you’re not expecting. You experience varying degrees of apprehension and happiness. And sometimes doubt.

A good friend of mine told me about his fatherhood experience about a year ago. The moods (of the mother to be, not his). The lack of understanding (His not the mother to be) and the general mixture of emotions through the journey.

He said, My guy, you know these women are like tong’ gweno. Now having a pregnant wife is like being on a roller coaster with a tong’ gweno.

By the way, tong’ gweno is Latin for “chicken egg”.

Well, since this roller coaster began, that tong’ gweno talk has rung true. I’ve had to be careful of everything I do, say or even think. Even how I smell. My favourite cologne went missing a few months ago. I dare not ask where it is. For I had been warned not to wear it and I did. Justice was swiftly meted out.

What about the cravings? Those are real apparently. My boy says his wife craved KFC and Art Cafe prawns. As in really? Kwani that child is how uptown? The requests would come in at 11:30 pm and the nearest Art Cafe is in Lavington and closes at midnight. He doesn’t live anywhere near Lavington.

Thankfully my missus just craves ice lollies, mangoes and lime cordial. My job is to make sure the house is stocked with those items. I’m a man though, so I forget sometimes. Because we can only keep so much information in our heads. But we’ll remember the scores of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final. Damn that Johnny Wilkinson and his perfect boot.

Now, here’s the thing, men are built to be problem solvers. The light is out, no problem. Put in a new bulb. The trash bag is full, take out the trash. So, the good thing with those missions we’re sent out on, it feels like we’re doing something. Solving a problem. We’d carry the baby for her if we could, but where would we put the beer?

We can’t make her less sleepy. Or less hungry. Or balance out her hormones. But we can take a trip to get food. To look for that mama mboga in Kawangware with the ‘best mangoes. That we can do. In fact, we consider it an adventure. Some sort of covert mission. We even reward ourselves with a beer afterwards.

So much goes through our minds during these times though. One of them being trying to figure out the difference between being a father and a dad. Or what if we mess up and the kid becomes a stripper or a robber or a drunk? How do you deal with this concept of a new family? How do you prepare for a future you have never experienced?

I don’t have the answers to those questions. But I guess, one just needs to navigate and enjoy the journey. To use the tools one has to get to the destination. At least it’s what we’ve got in the here and now. Till then, let’s hope we land this thing safely.