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BIRTHDAY CHECKS

I am not much of a birthday person.I rarely post HBD on peoples walls on Facebook since I find it too plastic.But then there are birthdays that I cant dare forget for the sake of my peace. First is the birthday of the First Lady of my house.It is written ” remember her days and keep them holy”. I always follow that commandment.

Second,I do not forget the birthdays of the young Kenyans in my household who call me dad.The flipside of forgetting is getting ulcers from their constant nagging. I reckon that a cake is cheaper than ulcers medication and thus give them a treat on their birthdays.But the tricky part comes from the youngest of them all who demands a ” happy birthday” each time a neighbours kid hosts a birthday.

That said,I cant begrudge anyone who celebrates his or her birthday in style- to each his own.We cant all be Uncle Scrooge.

Birthdays are not always exact.Take for example those kids who turned up for Standard One recruiment without birth certificates in our village primary school back in our days.All puffy cheeks covered with woolen mbocoris and pullovers smudged green with avocadoes.

The mwalimu then,a seasoned class master called Mr Kibebe Macharia, frowned at one pencil-thin lad with knees like door knobs and mucus thicker than porridge then blurted out-“You,Kamau wa Njeri wa thoko,you were born on August 2!” The day of the coup. Then he squinted at another unkempt lad who looked like a seasoned mango thief at only 7 and told him:” You,Cege wa Gicheru wa ng’ombe-you were born on 22nd August.” The day Jomo died.Bad boys are born on bad days.And vice versa.

After that he told some other boy that his birthday was on 31st April.Which doesnt exist.Finally, he smiled at the well groomed Vicar’s daughter who had North Star shoes and hair shaped into ponytails and told her softly “Leah Njoki,you were born on Christmas day”.The happiest of all days.

“Nimwaigua? “

He asked the new learners after assigning them birthdays.

“Yesssah! ” They chorused back in English.
Then marched of to class happily,leaving behind a myriad of unwashed scents.

Anyhow,thats how some people from the village ended up with cooked up birthdays.Which,after coming to the city and hitting it big and buying Harriers,they celebrate with Moets and other fine servings.

Talking of modern birthday celebrations,I find them divisive.They divide us into those that can afford fine champagnes for the day and those that can hardly afford a mwitu half burnt cake baked by a struggling pastry student in a home made oven.

Despite my cynical views about birthdays,deep down,I know the day I was born was special.It produced me.But after I reached that particular age when one realizes one is growing old instead of growing up,I stopped doing birthdays altogether.

Instead,I opted to be going for an annual health checkup on that day.And get tested for things like blood sugar,hypertension,cholestral levels and most importantly,prostate cancer.

My first such check for prostate cancer was a disaster.I queued at the doctors then when my turn came,I pretended to be receiving a call and headed for the gate.I had heard nasty stories from fellow men about how doctors inserted a naughty finger into your Gate B to test for prostate cancer.Then they twirled it inside there,like a lover searching for the elusive G- spot in a man.This left many men with nightmares of being raped.Bar room stories can be very misleading.

Instead,I found out that they no longer test for prostate cancer by probing your plumbing with a naughty finger.Instead,they do a test called PSA test which involves taking a blood sample from your body and testing it for antigens.Easy,does it?

The beauty of it all is that the comprehensive annual checkup is free if you have an NHIF card as the main contributor.Other insurance covers cater for such services too,but men rarely utilize them.

To all the men out there,ignore those rumours about prostate cancer tests being intrusive.Far from it.Go see you doc,get tested,thank me later.

Passing shot now.There’s that middle class nonsense of growing a beard in November to raise awareness about prostate cancer.Its complete hogwash since it doesnt pass any information along about cancer.

Thanks all for happy birthday wishes yesterday though.

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LIFE’S HOWLS

When I was a wide-eyed lad with fan like ears and knees sticking out like door knobs, my cùcù told that hyenas laugh when hunting. Then cackle the night away after feeding on rotting carrion. After that they giggle some amorous hyena gibberish as they make future hyenas. Fun, huh? I mean the giggles. Far from it.

A hyena’s howl is the most blood curdling sound in the African savanna.  I came to know that after working in the Northern Kenya region for a while. A typical night in North Eastern Kenya is punctuated with hordes of hyenas howling at your dreams. Long mournful howls that hover above you like hangman’s noose, waking you from the deepest slumber.

You wake up panting, fear crawling up your back like a cold lizard. You are almost sure that the beasts are some inches away from your bed. It only takes a local to tell you that the howling beasts are more than two miles away. In addition, hyenas rarely attack people. With that consolation, you gently slumber back into your sleep.

You see the fear of a hyena is warranted .That animal can eat anything-alive or dead. Stories abound about hyenas that were put in houses of aluminum iron sheets but ate their way out. The hyena doesn’t have the strongest teeth tag for nothing. Thus, despite its cowardly howls, it’s still feared, though not as much as its canine cousins like the leopard or the lion.

And that is the same with life. We are always running scared of things that are too far away from us. Or things that will never harm us. We are always scared of things imaginary. But does it matter whether that which scares you is real or imaginary?

That howl of aging that keeps you awake is way far away. That hyena of losing your job that howls so scaringly near may never harm you at all. The howls of a life threatening disease may not be true.

A story is told about a criminal who committed a crime and was sent to the king for punishment. After hearing his case, the king issued a death decree on the criminal. But the king was benevolent enough and gave the criminal a choice:

Look, you can be hung by a rope, or take what’s behind that big, dark, scary iron door’. He said, pointing to an ugly gothic door that had spikes sticking from it.

The condemned man looked at the door and heard it creak eeringly like an opening to an underground dungeon. He then finally settled on the hangman’s noose. As the noose was being tightened around his thick hairy neck, he asked the king:

‘By the way, out of curiosity, whats behind that door?’

The king let out a guttural laugh and said:

‘I always offer everyone that same choice, but they all pick the rope’.

‘So, what’s behind the door? ‘The criminal pressed on. ‘Obviously, I won’t tell anyone’, he said, pointing to the noose around his neck.

The King paused, and then answered:

‘Freedom, but it seems that most people are afraid of the unknown and the take the rope-and death’.

Most of the times, we are more scared of the things that we can’t see that of the things that we can see. Like the criminal in this case, we end up choosing the noose-which we know-instead of freedom. Our fear of the unknown leads us to our sad ends.

Conquering the fears of the things that we don’t know is one of the greatest human triumphs. Why? Because when you are scared, it doesn’t matter whether what is scaring you is real or not-you are scared!

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SMALL CASTLE

The Easter weekend finds me shooting breeze with a friend in one of those ancient village hangouts.This joint is as old as the hills- if you carefully searched the walls,you will find it scribbled somewhere ” Methusellah was here”. The barman boasts that he served one of the most dreaded Mau Mau toughies- General Kahiu Itina- his last drink on that sad night in 1956 he was felled by johnies.Ancient fellow I tell you.

Then my phone beeps- it’s my uncle calling.On picking it,he begins with an admonition- nikù kùu kwìna inegene ùguo?

Which is that hell hole that is so noisy? All parents start with that line.After explaining where I am he shoots straight:

“Riu woigire mamaguo atùrio ni ime ta ngiria?”

So you decided that your uncle will survive on dew like a cricket?

You got to like how my uncle asks me for a drink.He doesnt beg but makes me look a heartless fellow who reduces his uncle to a chirruping bug.And thats how a real man should do- ask for something but retain his dignity and pride.

Presently he joins my friend and I and we chat along.Then,my friend starts this sob story about how he built a very big house for his wife but she refused to live in it.

All along,my disinterested uncle is staring at the roof, rhythmically tapping the tip of his tony red Travolta boot on the floor.I am sure he is not listening to my friends silly sob story.When my friend is done with it,my uncle shoots from the blue:

Uncle:So,why did your wife reject that house?

My friend: Because it’s small.

Uncle-How many rooms does it have?

My friend: Four.

He pauses,takes a hefty sip,wipes his mouth with the back of his hand then goes on:

Uncle:Young men,have you ever been to a place called Njoro?”

He asks us.We chorus yes.

“Look,if you go to Ngata Farm near Egerton,there is a house that a certain mzungu built for his wife.It has not 4 rooms but 52 rooms.It is the size of an ocean liner.When his wife came over to live there with him,she rejected it, saying it was worse than a chicken kibanda.She spent less than two hours in it before she flew to Europe to live with another man in a rented hovel”

My friend almost chokes to death on his drink.

My uncle surveys us silently for effect,a heroic glint playing in his eyes.Then he issues his usual clincher:

“Utuku ndugagwo uhoro”.

You dont say bye bye at night.

With that,he takes his ever sharp panga and marches into the night-the panga shining in the moonlight like the sword of a templar knight returning from a victorious crusade.

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ODE TO KEN MATIBA-AND MANHOOD

This week marks one year since one of the leading lights of Kenya’s second liberation-Kenneth Matiba- walked on to bright lights. This has reminded me of a story about Matiba that one of my uncles told me some years ago. I may not have had much in my childhood. But one thing I never lacked is colourful uncles who regaled me with equally colourful tales- original, imaginary or made up- which are forever tucked in some hidden archive of my mango shaped head.

I wont vouch for the authenticity of this story from one of my uncles, but still I will tell it.Theres no pain greater than living with an untold story in ones heart.

The year was 1959.Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba, like all mortals, had fallen head over heels with a girl called Edith Gitau.Edith was a school teacher.Matiba was a dashing Makerere graduate. Matiba was from Murang’a.Edith was from Kiambu.Traditionally,boys from Murang’ a rarely married girls from Kiambu.But not Ken.She would marry Edith even if she came from Pluto.

One sunny morning, Edith is teaching Nature Study to her Intermediate class.Ken’s( or his dads) immaculate white Mercedes rolls into the compound, purring like a well fed mountain lion.Ken is in a tweed jacket, Oxford loafers and a hairstyle straight from those 60’s Negro movies.At this time, my uncles and his ilk were walking around barefoot,hairy chests exposed like proud Neanderthals.

Ken goes straight to the white Headmistress office.Head held high,one arm in his pocket.

I want to speak to one Edith Gitau.

He says with the awesome confidence of just graduated from Makerere with distinction.

The headmistress coldly tells Ken that he cant see her but will have to wait.Ken goes back to his immaculate white Mercedes.After waiting for a while, he decides love cant wait.He goes straight to Edith’s class and tells her he wants to see her.Edith is aware that the white headmistress is watching her so she ambivalently tells Ken to go away.At the same time winking at him.Women for you.

Ken goes back to his immaculate white Mercedes and waits for Edith.But Ken is not the type to wait for things to happen- he makes things happen.So he bursts into the class and tells Edith:

Its either you forget the chalk or forget about Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba.

Then he powers the immaculate white Mercedes out of the compound.By the time he reaches the schoolgate, Edith is already with him in the Mercedes,smiling and pouting.That was the last time she was seen in that school.

Several months later, Ken and Edith got joined in holy matrimony, the immaculate white Mercedes inscribed “ just married”.

Much has been said about the late Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba.I will not repeat the tired platitudes about him.But the above story, which I was told to me by my uncle Kiarie as we sipped spicy goat soup at Karai butchery in Nyamakima back in El Nino of ’97, just sums up Matibas brand of manhood.

The story exemplifies manhood from a generation when being a man was a duty first, honour second.A manhood which was about keeping rules,breaking them and making new ones.

And by extension, that was Matibas life.

Too sad that such brand of gallant men are, by and by, being replaced by sissies who have nothing to stand for, let alone die for.

Rest in peace Ka Njindo, the peoples President we never had.In some hidden corner of this country, there will always be a richer dust concealed.A dust which, generations to come will always ask; whence comes another? When old age shall this generation waste, the lofty ideals of KSN Matiba – just like those of his equals in history like Jean Jacques Rosseau, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke-shall remain.

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RULES OF CHARITY

Once again, it’s that time of the year to spread the holiday cheer. Time to let the milk of human kindness flow and share a cup of kindness with humanity. Simple acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer. So go ahead and give. However, charity comes with some does and donts.Here we go:

1. Give, don’t tell. The Holy book tells us not to let the left hand know what the right one has done. If after donating four packets of unga to some children home you have to raid Facebook and Instagram with 127 photos, then that’s not charity but narcissism.Keep photos to the minimum-it not about you. Blessed is the hand that give-unless it comes with a selfie stick.

2. Don’t necessarily give what you don’t need. A bone to the dog isn’t charity. Charity is sharing that bone with the dog when you are just as a hungry as the dog.

3. Dont give the worst you have.Prime up what you are giving. If you are donating your children’s old clothes, darn them first. Replace lost buttons. Wash them well-it’s time to spread the cheer, not bugs.

4. Follow up on the cause you are giving to-this world is full of trickery. Giving to a cause like ‘Kick Smallpox out of Africa’ is an outright con-Small pox was eradicated from this world decades age.

5. Photographs of children expose them to various risks like identity theft, paedophiles, cyber bullying etc. Seek permission to use photos of children. If you can avoid them the better.

6. Charity is not about pity but love. The poor need not only your food but time too. So don’t just give your money but time too. Spend an afternoon with the children or the infirm at the hospice .Walk a mile with them-you will appreciate good health better.

7. Don’t discriminate. Insisting that because you are Pentecostal you can’t donate to a Catholic children’s home because Catholics take wine is outright silly. Poverty has no religion. I have not even touched petty political schisms.

8. Put the best interests of the recipients at heart. Instead of asking yourself-what is going to happen to me if I give-ask yourself-what is going to happen to them if I don’t give.

9. Do more. Charity is not a solution to poverty. Can you employ that young man rescued from the streets in your shamba? Go ahead.Its more helpful than tokens.

10. Don’t prescribe. Just because you have donated two crates of soda and a packet of biscuits to street children doesn’t make you an authority to make blankets statements like ‘’the govt should come up with comprehensive policies to eliminate child poverty yadda yadda’’.That’s not your work. Of course politicians are exempted from this rule due to the neat vacuum that exists where their brains should have been.

Be charitable-and enjoy your holidays.

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THE SLAY QUEEN OF BETHANY

One of my Literature don during my undergraduate days at KU- the sagacious Dr Egara Kabaji- would never tire of reminding us that the Bible is the greatest work of Literature ever written.No book in the Western literary canon beats the Holy Book in richness of character, sense of the dramatic and the timelessness of the themes.

Take for example that bunch of 12 fellows around Jesus we call Apostles.From asking Jesus who he is to denying him to selling him to Pharisees at thirty cents like a starving kienyeji chicken,theres no telling what they will do next.

One Friday evening, Jesus goes down to Bethany for a house party to celebrate the raising of Lazarus from the dead.His host is Simon the leper.Together they recline on the couches, discussing politics,watching Citizen Nipashe Jerusalem edition.Mrs Simon is in the kitchen preparing chapos,minji and maini.

All of a sudden, an unnamed woman bursts into the room.She is of ill morals; you might as well call her the reigning slay queen of Bethany.She is not in the guests list- Mrs Simon the host cannot recall sms-ing her an invite to the party.Neither did Simon invite her.When Mrs Simon comes from the kitchen she msscheeews loudly at her.

Unperturbed, she rolls her eyes at Mrs Simon and then washes Jesus feet with very expensive oil fortified with aloe vera and lanolin.Unashamedly, she wipes his holy feet with her flowing hair. Then,like the priestess of ecstasies she is,she gives Jesus a hair raising leg massage.With her Oppal phone,she then takes a selfie with Jesus and uploads it on Instagram and tags her squad .Then, fast as comes, she slays into the night into another bash.

Then follows the most interesting part.The disciples are not amused and ask amongst themselves:

” Why all these waste?”

” That perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor of Mukuru kwa Njenga.Or the starving children of Dadaab”.
That was Judas the accountant.

When Jesus admonishes them, they take the discussion about the slay queen to their Apostles Whatsapp group.Judas,with his kiherehere, posts;

” Sasa huyu slay queen ametoka wapi?”

Peter the Rock replies;

” Mtu akipendwa na bae wake kuna makosa gani?’

Simon,ever the cynic, posts;

” Yenyewe hakuna mwanaumme hana mpango”.

All the while, Jesus is typing….

Judas leaves the group and goes out to look for a keg joint in backstreet Bethany before Pontio Pilates cops start arresting drunks for ” saa mbaya”.

Matthew the group Admin says that all group members should keep of slay queens and promptly removes Jesus from the group.Luke the medic argues that foot massages are good for circulation since Jesus walks alot.Mark responds that a man should get a tingling foot massage from his wife, not from random slay queens with dubious oils.The Whatsapp debate rages late into the night and by the time they get to Jerusalem,the 12 are in no talking terms.

Despite all the time the 12 fellows have been with Jesus, they still dont trust him.They dont trust him with a woman, yet they know he is God.In addition, they view the silent adoration of Jesus by the unnamed woman with suspicion,envy and sceptism.

Human beings will always be sceptical of your motives.Trust them anyhow.But dont trust the LITTLE DEVIL in each of them.

Happy Lent folks.

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GARISSA AFTER DARK

A tale about Garissa is a tale of two cities. Like most famous cities, Garissa has this chimeric nature that even the most casual passersby can’t miss.She is both and cold, outgoing and reserved. And like all items of endearment, I will use ‘she’ to refer to Garissa.

Like most of the towns up North, Garissa is unbearably hot during the day. She is also very modest and during the day-what with men in ultra-white kanzus and ladies clad in ultra-black buibuis painting the picture of piety. But if you want to get the real feel of Garissa, wait till the day blinks and night falls and people say and do things they wouldn’t say and do during the day.

When night falls in Garissa, things spread out. The moral veil over the town gets lifted. Men bring out mats and spread out khat to chew and chat. The clubs in Madogo and Mororo come alive with beats of Ohangla and Mugithi and Oromo music. And call girls-those priestess of illicit ecstasies- bloom like night roses from dark alleys.

Talking of night girls, there was this friend of mine who was posted to this town by some NGO on a HIV/AIDS program. You know those Nairobi types who think that people here still live on trees like Neanderthals and grenades are sold in the market like yams? Such type.

So my friend hit the ground running. Engaging stakeholders in sensitization meetings. Holding Focused Group Discussions and engaging community gatekeepers .And doing all those normal things people do which NGOs give fanciful names to bamboozle their donors. And then filling progress reports to Nairobi.

After working for several months, the guys in Nairobi sent him a pickup load of prophylactics (I prefer that word to condoms since my daughter reads this blog) to give out to the youth. Imagine, a whole pickup full of a yearlong supply of those pleasure seals. Once again, our man hit the ground running hoping to save the youths from themselves with rubbers.

For a start, he chose a bad day to distribute the things-Friday. Friday is the prayer day for the dominant Muslim faith and so a Friday in Garissa looks like Sunday in Kiambu. Everybody in white kanzus and all business closed for prayers. Even government desks are rarely manned on Fridays after 11 am.

He had hardly distributed a packet or two when a phone call was made and another and another and an in irate sheikh and his men appeared before him in big Landcruiser.Amongst the Somali, information travels at the speed of light.

Waria kitu gani wewe nabatia vijana yetu?  The Sheikh roared, his beard dyed the colour or Royco shaking with anger.

Nawapatia vitu ya kujikinga .My friend replied,his NGO heart in his mouth.

Sisi habana taka wewe patia vijana wetu  vitu haram! Thundered an imam.

But we are trying to increase youth’s capacity to take charge of their reproductive safety, my friend charged on, borrowing from the wording of his projects main objective. The Sheikh wasn’t impressed with our chaps NGO-speak. Neither were the imams.

Haba habana  iko malaya!  Hio kitu peleka Kenya! The sheikh said with finality. It’s interesting how residents of Northern Kenya do not consider their places Kenya.

With that, he swung his bakora and climbed into the Landcruiser.His fellow religious leaders with their beards dyed the colour of Royco followed him triumphantly.

That night, my friend didn’t sleep. If he didn’t dish out that pickup of protectives, then his job was cooked. So one day he waited till it was nightfall and the stars started winking and peeping from up above. He went on to the Tana bridge ready to throw the pickup load to the river for crocodiles to do whatever they want with them.

For a while, he watched the mighty Tana flow languidly on its way to the ocean, its dark murky waters hiding all the souls it has swallowed. However, he soon realized that there was no way he would throw all that consignment away into river Tana without being noticed.  Unlike the day which dominates us with one eye like a mono-eyed ogre, the night has a thousand eyes. The Tana bridge at Garissa town is a bustling place at night with cops and buses and passengers and the town’s miscreants all raising a noisy din.

Two, there was that bit about him documenting who he had given the condoms to. He couldn’t record that he dished out the condoms to crocodile since they don’t have names and you know what else. I can now use the c-word liberally because I believe that even if my daughter was to read this post, she can’t come this far. Millenials don’t read a post beyond 400 words. See I am a smart dad? Anyway, back to our guy and his rubbery consignment.

When he realized he couldn’t toss a million condoms into river Tana without raising eyebrows, he wandered to a place called Madogo for a drink. Now, Madogo is the heart and armpit of Garissa. Heart because like a home, it’s the only place a weary traveller can get choma and a place to sleep at 2.00 am. Armpit because that’s where all the town’s flotsam and jetsam hides at night. In Madogo, its always festive season after dark-with music blaring from the night clubs in dangerous decibels all night.

As he nursed a drink waiting for it to get darker so that he could hurl a million condoms to River Tana, a  jolly chap who was chewing khat chatted him up. One of those community renegades who drink beer where it’s considered haram. By the time they left each other, my friend had a gotten plan to dispose the condoms. All at the price of some few leaves of muguka and quarter of Bluemoon spirit. Sometimes one get help from the most unlikely sources but they don’t teach you such thing in college.

The following day he organized a stakeholder’s forum where he invited mostly religious leaders and elders. There were few gatecrashers. In any training you do in Northern Kenya, there will always be some uninvited fellows who will say that there were sent to the training by the area MP, the Governor, some little known MCA etc. If you chase them away they threaten to call their benefactor. Interesting fellows.

After the training, there was a group activity in the evening. There was a field visit to the town after dark. Our NGO guy hired three sleek taxis and took the trainees round the town and parked outside one of the famous nightclubs-DRC.It was a beautiful night, with stars strewn across the sky like diamonds on the hijab of a wife of a rich sheikh. A languid breeze was blowing from the riverine region of river Tana, filling the town with this musky oriental scent. Nights in Northern Kenya are pure beauty- a balm for some wounded soul.

But this beauty was spoilt almost immedietly.Out of the moonlight alleys, ladies of the night scrambled to the cars, thinking they were usual customers looking for some illicit pleasure. The girls came in all sizes, hoping to cater for corresponding varied sizes. Some were in buibui, peeping coquettishly behind the veils. Some were in skirts that revealed more than they hid. Others were dressed in what one can call air. There was a Wambui and a Mwikali and a Habiba and an Atieno-the face of Kenya.

Before the sheikhs could compose themselves and tell the drivers to drive them from this hell, a petit lady of the night sashayed to them, placing her greasy buxom on the car window. For a few minutes she glittered like a cinema hall entrance, bringing all her dismal sensuality out. Before the sheikhs could tell her that they hadn’t come for a late dinner at café flesh, she had already outlined to them what she had on her menu and her corresponding prices. She even added that her outlet (don’t get your mind twisted now) accepted both cash and Mpesa.

Beleka sisi nyumbani! Thundered one of the sheikhs to the driver-waving a brutal bakora to him. The driver powered the car out of that hell, like a place he would never come back to again. As they drove home, the sheikhs silently held on to their prayer beads, too shocked to talk. But the message was home. There are some truths about a town that one can see only when it’s dark. And this was one of them.

The following day, my friend was given an express charter to distribute his million condoms to the youth of Garissa.

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MR.DEATH,WILL THOU LISTEN TO SOME MUSIC?

The ancient Greeks were great weavers of memorable tales. Among these is the tragic story about one love struck chap called Orpheus and his girl called Eurydice. Orpheus and Eurydice get married, but later that night, Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies. Overcome with grief, Orpheus travels to the underworld to bring her back to life. He fords through the treacherous River Styx that separates the earth and underworld. He has to fight some grotesque creatures to get to the love of his life. Finally, he convinces Hades, the god of the underworld, to let Eurydice go. Tough as a ghetto boy, this Orpheus fellow was. But that’s the far the story goes.

The news of my mom’s death some four years ago today, turned me into a black Orpheus. She became my Eurydice. The distance and time between my home and where she passed on was the river Styx that I had to cross. I was under the impression that she was not gone but in a coma that a doctor could sort out. All my life, I have never drove that fast, hoping that I will save her life. Oh no, she couldn’t be gone-she hadn’t reached that viable die-able age when hands get gnarled and the brain gets cold with Alzheimers.She was a hip digital mum-always texting me some punchy Bible verse every Sunday .No, She wasn’t gone. DENIAL

Then in one blinding flash, it dawned on me mom was dead. That she had danced in the wind and melted into the universe, becoming one with the stars. My world came crushing; my tears glands went supernova. I wanted to hold on to something and crush it.Like Samson of yore, I wanted to bring down the temple of life and go down with everybody-and thus join her. ANGER.

Life, why have you treated me like you once caught me sleeping with your pretty wife?  I asked Providence. What do you want in exchange for her life? God, do you care as they say in the good book?  What can I do for you to bring her back to life? BARGAINING.

From that moment on, grief and his twin brother misery embraced me like two jealous Oga wives, each fighting for a piece of me.You see, there are my-heart-is-broken sorrows that we all overcome when we move on to another lover. Or my-wallet-is-empty sorrows that we all go through around midmonth but end when the paycheck clears. But this was my-mom-is dead sorrows that gnaw at your soul like gnats. Like a sore tooth that is not content to throb in isolation but spreads its pain to the whole head, this sorrow engulfed my whole body.  I wore sadness like a dirty sack cloth, my shoulders forever falling like teardrops. DEPRESSION.

I come from a community that’s known for thrift. Every coin is to be saved. Every drop of water is to be conserved-including tears. A man crying in a funeral is an abomination. He is an insult to all the gallant braves from the tribe like Kimathi, Jomo and Kaggia and others who liberated our country from colonialism. With the blood of such greats coursing through ones veins, no man is not permitted to cry. Not even for his mother.

Thus the burial day found me standing there stoically, holding back an El Nino of tears in my head. I could feel my head go whoosh like three quarter full calabash any time I turned it.Taban lo Liyong,the eccentric Sudanese writer, once wrote that ‘culture is ‘rutan’.Culture is a tyrant.

Forget culture, a man should be allowed to mourn his mom. Why? One’s mom is one’s needs answered. A man is at home with his friends when life is good but when the vultures of sorrow start hovering ominously over his head, he seeks refuge in his mother’s bosom. Life is like water. Water has a perfect memory, always rushing to the sea where it came from. Likewise, we are always longing to go back to our moms. Knowing that any time we go to her house, she has to take us in.

It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined. The memory becomes permanent, like a government job. Long after the burial, the funeral proceedings played in my head for a long time. ‘Ash to ash, dust to dust’, the wind whispered. Anytime I looked at the grave I knew that therein, in the words of English poet Rupert Brooke, there is ‘a richer dust concealed’. Then I stopped shedding tears that she was gone, and started smiling because she had lived. I let her rest, not because I loved her less, but because I cherished her memories more. ACCEPTANCE.

In my undergrad Sociology classes I had learnt of this pretty famous theory that says there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But this never prepared me to handle mom’s death. It never occurred to me that the five stages don’t have to follow each other in that order. Some stages you don’t even get over. Like acceptance. For years, you are like a bird trying to fly with a broken wing. Something is forever lost in you.

Life is full of contradictions. We all want to live to ripe old age, but we detest gnarled hands and grey hair. We all want to go to heaven, but we don’t want to die. Can we cross the river without the bridge?  Shakespeare reminds us that every day we rot and rot as we approach our graves. Mr. Death lurks in our shadows, waiting for that destined moment to claim our limbs and free the soul from the pestilence of the body. So we live in his constant dread, every waking day. But is death the end?  As Sri Chinmoy tells us, Death is not the end. Death is the road. Life is the traveller. The soul is the guide. When the traveller is tired and exhausted, the guide instructs the traveller to take either a short or a long rest, and then again the traveller’s journey begins.

We spend a whole life preparing for this fleeting life. Forgetting that we will be dead for an eternity. We need to learn to humor Death. We need to have a swanky image of him-not some hooded gothic scepter with a scythe in hand.  Some nerdy graphic designer kid needs to come up with a sexy symbol of death-a friendly chap in skinny jeans, a killer mohawk and an Ipad.Mr.Death  needs to have a swanky iPhone 6 that he uses to call guys and tell them in a foreign heavenly accent-get ready buddy, you are next!

This Mr. Death fellow should be on Whatsapp.Every Monday, he should add all people who are going to die that week into a group called ‘Club Eternity’. Then add them as friends on Facebook. On Throw Back Thursdays he should share photos of guys who left us last year. Then on Mondays he should share photos of some heavenly weekend parties. Yes, Mr.Death should also be in Twitter-with hash tags that trend forever. Death should also be in Instagram, with millions of selfies, the most liked one being the one with the First Lady of the World, Eve Adams. Of course dudes particularly like this photo coz Eve is in her birthday suit, and Mr. Death is having a deadly time because of that!

We need to be brave enough to welcome Death when he comes knocking:

Me:                        Hey! Come right in D-boy. I was expecting you!

Mr. Death           (in a guttural voice) Thank you.

(We do high a five)

Me:                        Buda, what’s your favorite drink again?

Mr. Death:          Hells Flame.

Me:                        Hio sina,but  I have a quarter of Blue Moon.

Mr. Death:          Its fine with me. Serve it cold-its hot out there. You know….

Me:                        Here, to eternity (clicks glasses). Eeer,Mr Death, will you listen to some music?

Mr. Death:          Oh yes.

Me:                        Would you like ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra? Or Beethoven’s ‘Moonlit Sonata” I am sure you also like ‘You can’t hurry death’ by The Supremes.

Mr. Death:          You are such a spoil host…hic!

Me:                        Sire, you are getting tipsy now. . Let’s do that last selfie.Chap! Don’t forget to share it on your wall and tag all my friends.

(Takes selfie, with Mr. Death doing the peace symbol)

Me:                        Now, let me dance into the splendid sun then melt into eternity where I belong. Ciao!

Mr.Death:           Go well.

This life will finally kill us. We need to learn to accept death not as an opposite of life, but as a continuation of it.To that ends, I want to feel alive while I am. I will feel the earth with my bare feet. I will let the wind play with my hair and the zephyrs from the mountains caress my temples. One day, death shall surely die, and I shall wake up eternally. Then, like God’s prima donna that I am, my soul shall sashay into the cosmos!

My Mom will be there, leading the Heavenly Mothers Union choir in the crystal stairs. She will be belting her heart out to the beat of golden karing’aring’a and silvern kayamba.

Then a voice will go out, clear and firm:

 ‘Son, come rest in my bosom forever; for you have been a good boy.’’

 That voice will be Lord’s, and moms.

In loving memory of my mother,Mary Njambi Mwangi (1954-12/3/2015)

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KIMANI ‘TOLSTOY’ MAINA: A MEMORIAM

(This week we take a break from our usual stories to pay tribute to a friend who went to be with the Lord this week)

Earlier this week I received,with sadness,news about the passing on of my friend Kimani ‘ Tolstoy’ Maina.Or simply Kimani Maina.

There has never been a soul bolder than his.With a fresh turn of phrase,Kimani never got tired of jabbing his nib at the ribs of a regime gone wrong.His consistency in pointing out the nakedness of the king was unparalled.His drive in pointing out the excesses of our powers that be was unmatched.

When Kenyans merely grumbled about the ongoing unprecented plunder of this nation being overseen by the the rapacious Jubilee buccaneers,Kimani openly wept.His dedication to the ideals of social justice and equality were peerless.

Unlike most of us,Kimani never shied of going against the grain.Like Tolstoy,he had this unwavering conviction that wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.There is no nobler belief that that.

Today,somewhere in Ruiru,the bells will toll for Comrade Kim.And forever,somewhere in the rich dust of Ruiru,there shall be a richer dust concealed.Dust of an unconquereable soul, a man who,like Ulyssess of yore,lived to this lofty words-

” How dull it is …
To rust unburnished,not to shine in use!”

With Kimani’s demise,we have lost a gallant soldier,an idealist and a drum major for justice.As a community,a clod has washed down to the sea,and we are more the poorer.

Comrade Kim,thine toll on earth is done,and thus you have gone where the soul of man never dies.

May Ngai,our one God, shine his light on you eternally.

PS:

In the month of January,Kimani Maina had shared with me some creative pieces that he wished published here.I will honour that promise to a friend someday.

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KIKUYU NICKNAMES

KIKUYU NICKNAMES

It was that year when a big-tailed beast blazed the sky and the whole village was sure the world was ending. Later, in class 5, I learnt it is called Harleys Comet and it passes by Earth every 76 years.

Anyhow, we were rough boys with equally rough dogs looking for some trouble to keep our Saturday busy. Then trouble brought itself to us in form of a blue Morris Minor owned by one of the local barons called Kirema Nditi.For those who don’t speak my tongue, Kirema Nditi means ‘the one who overcomes all obstacles’. What his name meant is that you pushed him into a pit latrine, Kirema Nditi would come out smelling of roses. You go to mganga to bewitch him, you die yourself. Kirema Nditi was indestructible.

When he parked his beloved Morris Minor, we made it our duty to guard it, hoping he will reciprocate our selfless service with a lift to the big town. Or give us one of the loaves of bread he was distributing. Those were the days when some wazees from our place formed a company called Mugoiya that used to bake bread called ‘Hot Bread’ at our Kangema Township.

Now, if you did not taste Hot Bread as child, your childhood must have been very needy. It was said that the dough for making Hot Bread was kneaded by the strong feet of barefoot villagers who wore shoes only on Christmas Day. But that didn’t dampen our appetite for it. Bread was pizza those days.

When Kirema Nditi was done with making his bread deliveries at our shopping center, he came back to his car. My dog Carlos, an old mongrel whose mother was a jackal and father a wild dog, saluted him, hoping to get a loaf.Kirema Nditi was not impressed. We had to get another trick to impress the mean geezer to give us bread. Luckily, his car refused to start. God answers boys’ prayers that way.

‘Kirema Nditi’! My cousin Tony called him. ‘Can we push the car for you?’

Immediately, Kirema Nditi got out of his car and started whacking us. He whacked all us and our dogs so hard until Makurata, the old lady who sold overripe bananas at the shopping centre shouted at him-‘We! You will not kill those our boys as I watch’. Kirema Nditi then left for Kanorero, leaving behind a whiff of Hot Bread and pain in our bottoms.

When we got home, we told our grandmother how Kirema Nditi had almost killed us, yet we had done him nothing. Our cucu was an ex-Mau Mau who would cross any river to defend us.
‘Kirema Nditi is not called Kirema Nditi’.She told us.
‘He is called the father of Chege.’

That was my fist lesson about nicknames among my people. In our place, a nickname is private. People give you a nickname but only use it when you are not there. The reason being oftentimes, the nickname is a slur, a thinly veiled insult, or an outright absurdity.

And people, didn’t those wazees of yore from our place have colourful nicknames! We had a man nicknamed ‘Kanyua Imata’-the one who drinks creamy milk .Then there was one ‘Muirigire Rugiri’-the one who has a fence around him. I once worked in a small town with a rich man nicknamed ‘Njigirira Ningukuua’-put it in my back, I will carry! But the one that used to catch my fancy was Kanyugi Makundo Kenda-Kanyugi the man with nine locks of hair in his head.

Then we had several Matenjagwos-a name which means ‘Those that never shave’. This stock nickname was reserved for those toughies from the Mau Mau days who like Nazarities, never shaved their body hair, lest they lost power.

Another common nickname was Kamumunye. Almost untranslatable. It was reserved for those that, for one reason or the other, had lost their teeth and thus sucked at food like a lover’s tittie.

Finally, we had this mechanic who was always in greasy blue overalls. In the village, they called him ‘Chege Ndimiaga’. Chege the one who does not go to the toilet. You can guess why. It is said that he once ran over a man with his Toyota Stout after he called him so to his face. Calling a man by his nickname in our community can be suicidal at times.

The nicknames from our place are outta this world. Feel free to add your own.

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