Thursday, November 15, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Venue: Bookworm, Eko Hotel Shopping Complex, Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island.
Date: Saturday 28th July, 2007
Time: 1 pm
Please note that I am consolidating my blogs and you can look forward to very regular posts, including profiles on my favourite African writers, at my main blog.
I also invite you to join the conversation at the all new Kwani blog launching this week.
Friday, June 29, 2007
PARSELELO KANTAI is a unique talent. One of the continent's leading investigative journalists; an intellectual of commitment and talent - and a fiction writer of true power. He has had a Reuters Fellowship for his nonfiction; was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. He is presently completing an MFA in Creative writng from the
THE REDDYKULASS GENERATION
By Parselelo Kantai
“When the madness of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say the man is mad.”
- Francis Imbuga, Betrayal in the City (Play, East African Educational Publications, 1987)
At a book launch in
Later, Ogot was instrumental in giving life to what was little more than a rickety idea: by textualising a national identity he and others poured an Afro-centric history into what had previously been a space colonised by whites. People crept out of the darkness of their imagined savageries. We, Ogot had long postulated, had not been invented; We were.
That such an obvious statement could be so transformative is difficult for me and people of my generation to fully appreciate. That people were validated, and at the euphoric moment of their validation – as the Union Jack fell and the Kenyan flag went up – were made to enter into a new enterprise:
We who were born under the Kenyan flag had listened to the propaganda of nationalism for so long, we internalised its cadences and often missed its import: that nations were built, were projects, ideas. We were its building blocks, constructing in the very enterprise of our construction; we were, as we so often heard, the leaders of tomorrow. We were raised on a diet of free primary education, mandatory mid-morning school milk and personal rule: whatever His Excellency through the Voice of Kenya and/or his domestic representatives (the parents) said was good for us. The Party was good but Playboy, for instance, was clearly not. So Playboy was banned and new party offices opened and those who sought out Playboy were bad and those who sang at the opening of the new KANU branch were good. I am simplifying of course, but living within the ubiquity of power made it impossible to imagine that your existence was in itself an experiment.
All around us, the experiment was going wrong. When I was 13, the Prisons Band – at the time His Excellency the President’s favourite – sang:
We are a loving nation
United and free
We are! We are!
We gonna tell it all again
Welcome to the
People are happy and are living in peace
Welcome to the
People are happy and are living in peace
Moi, Son of God
Moi, President of
People are happy and are living in peace.
The soloist of the Prisons Band was Kalenjin, from His Excellency’s ethnic group, an ever-smiling man with a gap in his front teeth wider than mine. He sang with a heavy accent that mangled English and caused us city kids much superior laughter. But His Excellency liked the band and the song was played over and over. We noted the mangled accent and therefore registered the words as nonsensical. Only later did I recognise their self-congratulatory import. His Excellency would often remind us that “
For the longest time, I had pronounced chaos as CH-A-O-S, had no idea what it meant. My mother is from
My uncle Miro Kasozzi, who taught my younger brother and I chess and had two degrees from the
These were stories from relatives who occupied a story-book reality. They smiled as they told us these stories, smiled that
I marvel at the ingenuity that it took to keep the project alive. The codes unconsciously communicated across the landscape of our earnest faces that prevented my Uncle Kasozzi from dragging us to the edge of the abyss from which he had only just emerged; the elaborate infrastructure of adult secrecy that ensured that in ignorance lay our childhood bliss. The nation was being built inside us. We were its unconscious laboratory. We needed to be protected at all costs. But it was also the age: His Excellency was the Father of the nation. We were all his children. The Prison’s Band sang ‘welcome to the land of Kenya’ bowed, boarded the green Prisons bus and went back to the office to torture some dissidents, misguided university lecturers who were being paid by foreign elements out to destabilise His Excellency’s government.
This was our real heritage, despite Professor Ogot: ritualised incantation with no meaning save for the inner logic of developing collective obedience. We were signs that signified themselves, and we were rooted in contradiction. Sons and daughters of the victors of anti-colonial struggle, the only reliable precedent for our ongoing invention was the colonial elite our parents had replaced.
And that was the problem. That at the age of 10, some 20 years after independence, I was sitting behind a desk that had been marked years before by a settler boy; the disused inkwell probably still contained ink samples from his Fountain pen. We had failed to produce new realities for ourselves. Along the way, the new African elite, so young and transcendent when they came to power, were now older and fatter, had lost their hunger. They were the Firsts: the first large cadre of Western-trained university graduates which, in the heady days of independence, filled the gap left by the departing colonial administrative bureaucracy. By the age of 30, many of them were sitting at the head of public corporations, running government departments, taking over senior management positions in multinational corporations. Doctors, engineers, administrators, others: they gave muscle to the rhetorical idea of Black Rule. Their extended stay in the West, their return trip with a rolled-up degree certificate and a graduation photograph, had given them Promethean reputations in their home villages. They were called mzee (old man) before they were 40. When they stood up to speak at local gatherings, entire locations fell silent; people cocked their ears and stared at their bare feet and tried to decipher every nuance and cadence in the great man’s voice. The great men lived in
“Perhaps it was not hate that drove us to fight the white man, but love: love for his things, his cars, his houses, his life,” observes the narrator in Ayi Kwei Armah’s novel on corruption in post-independence
On national days, we dutifully remembered the names of the original heroes. Cardboard characters who had lived heroically and died tragically at some point in a misty past, we only knew them as blank spaces for the end of term exam: Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi Waciuri was the ___ of Mau Mau. Mau Mau was the ___ of independence. History was one of several subjects to be conquered over three days of examinations. It had nothing to do with present reality. Words substituted meaning, and the past with its betrayals and accommodations, remained in the shadows.
So the past was out of bounds. And for good reason: who were our parents within the context of these huge betrayals? As benign and apolitical as, say, the pursuit of engineering or medicine was, what had they done to achieve what they had? How many spaces were left blank in their personal histories? Who had they betrayed? They had worked hard, they explained. And so we lived under a code of hard work. The pursuit of educational glory became our defining objective. Such arid values combined with the secrets of our parents previous lives produced in my generation, not curiosity, but a vast need to conform. Instinctively, we knew the consequences of unconventional thought. So we feared unbeaten paths, ideas that had not been endorsed by authority. When we were older and unable to find meaning anywhere else, we excavated the already hollow words of our education and, judging them to be valuable, the best of us laid them down as a foundation on which to live. That, ultimately, is the meaning of the story I am about to tell you.
My friend Bee was found hanging in her ground floor apartment in
I was not there. I was in faraway
She and Jane had known each other since their university days. I knew Bee differently. We had gone to the same primary school. Her brother was my classmate. We had lived for a time in the same neighbourhood. There had been many hours spent drinking and talking in what seemed to be several Nairobi incarnations: in our early 20s as students at the police canteen that was our neighbourhood local; as salaried folk, bumping into each other in bars and clubs downtown, a coincidence that on one occasion led me to Jane; even later, swapping invitations to parties at each other’s houses. There were memories of shared holidays and lazy Sunday afternoons. Oddly fixed in my mind is a photograph, vintage Bee, taken of Santayian, one-tooth old and in a yellow sweater knitted by one of her grandmothers, scrambling across the carpet towards the camera, screeching, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
I remembered other things: the funeral of another mutual friend, Betty, who, finally accepting her HIV-positive status and deciding to go public with it, had died a few years earlier. Her funeral service had been held at the church in which I had grown up. I remember another friend, the playwright Gichora, Bee’s and Jane’s year-mate at the University of Nairobi, who, refusing to accept that he was Positive, had died prematurely; going on anti-retrovirals would have been an admission to himself of his condition. Bee had worked with Gichora’s brother. Gichora and a cousin of mine were a couple until his death. And in the vines of our tangled relationships but cut off from the confines of
We used to joke that even when you did die in a car accident, it was probably still HIV-related. A suicide was so much easier to deduce; the act itself only confirmed lingering suspicions. AIDS was the silent guest at every death.
I bought a phone card from the Indian at the Off-Licence on North Oxford Parade and called Jane.
“Was she Positive?” I finally had the courage to ask after talking in circles.
“No,” Jane was emphatic. “She would have told me.”
“Then what was it? Why did she do it?”
Jane told me an implausible story. Bee was depressed. Depressed because she was in debt.
“Why didn’t she come to you if things were so bad?” I asked
“She had. She already owed me quite a bit.”
“I offered but she refused,” Jane explained. “She said borrowing would just depress her some more.”
Bee owed all her friends money.
She had gone quiet soon after Christmas, the last time I had seen her, back in
Her father was inconsolable at her funeral. When Jane told him what she thought – when she gave him an answer to ‘Why’ – he asked, broken, why Bee hadn’t gone to him. But who can explain how far away, how impossible to reach everybody is when you are down that black hole?
Beyond our grief and her despair – beyond our private Whys – Bee’s suicide seemed to suggest a larger failure. If, as Stalin had once infamously remarked, one man’s death is a tragedy and one million a statistic, what drama had my friend been involved in? On what canvas was her death painted? What was her ‘tragic arc’?
Let us pull out from the close-up image on that grim Thursday morning. In March 2005, the sunlight glinted off the dozens of brand new cars parked in Bee’s large apartment complex where US$ 500 a month secured you a prime piece of
Beyond the high stone walls that protect this semi-brahminic existence lie the questions – the street with its statistics, its faceless many, the potholes, the honking matatus, the rat-race towards rat-holes – questions we must answer in order to understand the state this enterprise called Project
But not so fast. You need first to understand how and where Bee fitted on that canvas. Bee was 36 years old, single and post-graduate, at the top end of that growing ‘demographic’ that
All around her, the old certainties were disappearing. Her parents, Luos, had retired to their upcountry farm in Nyanza after quietly distinguished careers in the civil service in
In the 1990s, His Excellency fell out of favour with his Western backers, and the privileges of an entitled elite two generations deep began to be shaken. The inalienable rights of the Firsts, the undoubted pedigree of their sons and daughters, their collective rights to the spoils of the post-colony (rural land, urban real estate, corporate jobs, resultant from years of cultivating the right accent); all that, as well as the old boy networks that secured those privileges, was profaned. The First Network, that of His Excellency and his tribesmen, was desperate for cash. Frozen out of the Paris Club – some dubious charge of trampling on human rights – and other western donor clubs, this network turned inwards and began cannibalising itself. It liquidated everything it could lay its hands on: rivers and road reserves were privatised; forest and wildlife parks turned into settlement schemes for its beneficiaries; public toilets and government houses disappeared, became shanty towns and apartment complexes, all property of mysterious new men with names that had no pedigree. Unprotected sex and AIDS became a metaphor for free-fall – for the unsheathing of the privileges of the independence elite and, as always, the victimisation of the citizenry in whose name this public shafting was conducted.
Certificates were condoms. But one also needed to know Who – more than How – could guarantee protection. Bee was prepared to sleep with no one, both literally and figuratively. She drew a line at that point. She had not been brought up that way. She had faith in merit. And so she drifted from job to job, assuming that she was not rising up the career ladder because she was restless, searching for that elusive ‘right’ path. She moved from the aid industry to the corporate sector, and back and forth and went to school at night. She was careful with her money and talented enough to ensure that there was always enough for rent and a little extra. Many of her friends left for the
In December 2002, a
Even as the propaganda of renewal, the busy-ness of cleaning up and sorting out, sounded from State House, the old politics of tribe and betrayal returned. President Kibaki suffered a stroke. His old friends, a group of businessmen, retired technocrats and politicos – the Firsts, in their mid-dotage – fenced off the Presidency and locked out the NARC coalition partners, including its chief architect, Raila Odinga, son of the old nationalist, Jaramogi Odinga, who was betrayed at independence.
Like the nationalism of the 1960s, the idea of renewal became farcical. An anti-corruption czar was appointed and run out of town as soon as he uncovered evidence of new corruption. Cabinet ministers gave TV interviews in the basement gymnasia of their new mansions as the press revealed fresh information on the latest corruption scam. As a sign of the new openness, the Mayor of Nairobi gave out his mobile phone number during a live FM appeal – he was appealing for patience at the height of a crippling water shortage.
Farce and cosmetics.
There was money everywhere and nowhere. Banks offered personal loans for the salaried as taxi drivers complained that even during the worst of the Moi times, there had been more business than there was now. New appointments in both the government and the corporate sector were heavily lopsided in favour of the President’s ethnic group.
Mortgage finance companies put the customer first and apartments rose like hosannas across middle class
At the beginning of the boom, Bee had an epiphany. She quit her job, sold her car and went to
Some months before she died, Bee was featured in Eve Magazine as “young, independent, female and entreprenerial”, the embodiment of the new woman that was the magazine’s target audience. It was excellent publicity for ‘Under Open Skies’. Still the business did not pick up. Somehow it wasn’t working. I met her less frequently now that I was no longer with Jane. But when we met, the usual
Bee killed herself out of shame. The shame and confusion of misplaced belief. Because, even after everything had changed, nothing had changed. After democracy and renewal and anti-corruption drives, after the privatisation of public services and collective dreams and the repackaging of tribalism as the victory of decency over grabiosis, nothing had changed. She had bought into the highest ideals of a sham project where public good was code for private accumulation and the acquisition of papers could never protect you if you were from the wrong tribe. Bee, a Kenyan, had not been designed to speak in ethnic code, had not been designed to ‘deal’.
The Reddykulass Generation’s central experience is survival: the informalisation of Kenyan life as the rickety idea of ethnic patronage began to wobble underneath its half-truths and lusts. The life that had developed at the margins gradually invaded the bankrupt centre. In place of the English and Kiswahili constituted as the main currencies in which life was transacted across the ethnic divides, we now spoke Sheng. A bastard mixture of the two and long condemned by officialdom, more and more Kenyans found themselves living within its fluid borders.
Bee loved writing and wrote short stories as a hobby. I had published a few of her stories at the various magazines I had worked for. But she got frustrated when, as was the norm at the margins of corporate
A few weeks after Bee’s death, I received another text message from Jane:
“Cn u imagin wht happnd? B 1 ths writing compe. Worth 200k. Cld hv srtd out ALL her shit!”
I have told nobody about this savage irony, those solitary head-banging what-ifs and the alcohol and hysterical laughter that I used to consume the news. And so we have to live with another secret. But also with the knowledge that the grand design of the project implanted in us was just that: a design. The project began when we started to tinker with the design.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
(Many thanks to Jaqui Lebo, Roving Kwani Editor who always delivers magic...)
Eva Kasaya was born in Thika 1978,
where her parents worked as migrant
laborers in a coffee plantation. When
she was young they moved back to their
homeland in Kerongo, Western Kenya.
She attended Kerongo Primary School
but was unable to continue to secondary
school due to lack of school fees.
When Eva was sixteen she moved to
Nairobi and worked as a house maid
for the next ten years. She now lives in
Nairobi where she writes and has a
My Life, By Eva Kasaya
In 1986 we moved from Thika to Kerongo, where we had a small shamba and a newly built house. Only mum, my two sisters and I moved. Dad stayed behind. Mum felt it was time to settle in the village and teach her children Maragoli as we spoke Kikuyu, the common language in Thika. Dad had come to Thika some years before we were born to work as a coffee picker at the Hatwara Plantation. Elkana Kagavera, the foreman at the plantation, had been Dad’s neighbor back in Kerongo. A lot of people came from Maragoli to look for work and Elkana hired them. So there were many Luhya families at Hatwara, but most of the families were Kikuyu. Outside the house we spoke Kikuyu. Inside we spoke Maragoli but my sisters and I spoke it so poorly that my mother felt we should be in a place where it was spoken every day.
Dad left for work early after breakfast of tea and remainder ugali. It was still very cold. My sisters, Orisa and Angela, were seven and nine and had started school. I spent a lot of time with Mum. She always hummed while she worked and finished cleaning the house she would wander around the estate talking to the other women. There were about two hundred houses in Hatwara estate, where the plantation workers lived – pickers, foremen, factory workers and office staff. The houses in Hatwara estate were round, plastered with white chalk on the outside and had grass thatched roofs.
The thing I remember most about Hatwara was going to the big dam to fetch water on Saturday afternoons. The dam was wide and the tractor took us there. Saturday morning was chavana, playtime for all the children in the estate. That was the day my big sisters would be home from school, but for me the real fun would have to wait till afternoon. The children divided themselves into playgroups. I followed my sisters in their group. I was five, my sister Orisa was seven and our oldest, Angela, was nine. I carried imaginary flour, sugar and water because to cooked food in small tins that we used as sufurias. We pretended to light a fire and would cook our food, all the while stirring with small sticks. After that everyone had a taste and would continue playing other games.
In the afternoon, Yohana would eventually come with the tractor to pick us to go fetch water. The dam was deep inside the coffee plantation. As soon as we heard Yohana hooting, every child would leave whatever that they were doing and run to their houses to get their small jerrican. One had to carry as many jerricans as they could. We filled the back of the tractor. Yohana drove fast and if you sat badly, you would be thrown around as the back swayed roughly. Yohana always told us to sit and hold the sides tightly and we obeyed him. At the dam, he opened the water and helped us fill our jerricans. Later on he would let us roam in the coffee plantation eat ripe coffee beans. They tasted very sweet, although if not well checked you could eat rotten one that had insects inside. Yohana usually sat beside the dam and smoked cigarettes while keeping a close eye on us. He never hurried us, and we looked forward to the next Saturday when he dropped us back home. We always remembered to thank him.
When I was not with my sisters, I played with Nyambura. She was eight and always wore a headscarf to hide her hair, which was long curly and brownish. She only took off the headscarf when we were bathing. The other children made fun of her and said her father was a mzugu Her mother was a secretary at the plantation offices and had three daughters. The other two were as dark as the rest of us. Only Nyambura stood out.
Sometimes Mum had work as a casual laborer when they needed extra hands to pick coffee. During these times Mum was happiest as she had something to do and was not idle. The other women in the estate also worked picking coffee together till late in the evening. They were careful to stay together as the plantation was dangerous at night. People from all over cut across it to go to the main road and sometimes we heard that at night thieves would hide inside the plantation after robbing people. Once late afternoon a little girl called Rihamba was sent by her mother to the kiosk to buy milk and she never came back. The kiosk was a short distance down the road that divided the estate from the plantation. The road had tall grass on the sides and passed the edge of the plantation so it was risky at night, but during the day even children went alone to the shops.
It began to get dark and Rihamba’s mother became more worried. The kiosk wasn’t that far. By seven, Rihamba still hadn’t returned. The mother got scared and started searching for her in the estate saying: “My child has not come back, I just sent her to buy milk.” Mum stood outside with the other women as Rihamba’s mother went from house to house asking if anyone had seen her. A few men decided to go to the shop and look for her. When they came back they said Rihamba had reached the shop and was seen walking back to the estate. But she couldn’t be found.
Then the following day when the women were picking coffee, they found Rihamba in the plantation. She was covered with leaves. Someone had raped and murdered her, then covered her with leaves from the coffee farm. No one had called the police. They were hoping she would come back. A few men from the estate had still been looking for her long into the night. Rihamba was taken back to the village in Maragoli to be buried. Rihamba’s mother had other small children but Rihamba was the eldest. When Rihamba died, we heard loud screams coming from her mother’s house.
A woman saw a heap of leaves between the rows of coffee bushes and poked it with a stick. The women ran back to the estate and screaming there was a child in the coffee. That is when people came and found it was Rihamba. Rihamba’s mother and mum were with the women picking coffee when they found the body. She just went to pick coffee that day because if she just sat around she might not have food at the table that night. She could not wait for her husband with that small salary, she had to at least do something, maybe get some money which might push her for a little time. Most women in the estate were this way, keeping themselves busy and earning whatever money to add to their husbands’ salaries.
After that our parents became scared of sending us to the shops. Only dad could go to the shops, not even mum could go. The men would go in a group of about five after work. So it happened that men did most of the shopping. We were cautioned harshly against leaving the compound unless my sisters were going to school. The estate was had a high kei-apple fence that grew into a thick shrub with big white thorns and there was only one gate. While we had no incidences of people breaking into the estate, there was always danger just outside in the coffee plantation.
There was a small kindergarten in the estate where parents could leave their young children who did not go to school. Mum left me there a few times when she went to work in the plantation but I refused to go after a while. My mum never forced me to go to the kindergarten so I stayed with her until we went to Kerongo, when I joined nursery school.
I followed mum to work on the days she was picking coffee or on the days there was no work and we would go with other women to pick wild vegetables outside the compound. But the work days were few and far between. Filling a bucket with coffee berries took two hours and paid only five shillings. Dad was paid eight hundred shillings at the end of each month. Mum would divide the money. A portion of the money went back to Kerongo to build the house and take care of the shamba. We were poor, but we were healthy, and health is what a family wished for most. The money was not enough to feed the family. I was the last-born, and I understood little but could sense my parents struggled.
One day mum announced we were going back to Kerongo. We woke up early to catch the bus from Thika to Nairobi. At the bus station in Thika, Orisa refused to climb into the bus and had to be forced in. We reached Nairobi and waited around the whole day for the train. As evening neared, Dad said goodbye and we boarded the train for Luanda station. The journey took all night. We had bought one seat in the third-class coach. Mum sat and carried me. My sisters sat on top of our bags. When they were tired, they slept under the chair to stretch their legs. I remember my eldest sister, Angela, complaining she had hurt her head under the seat.
From Luanda to Kerongo village, I came to learn later, was a distance of twenty kilometers. Big stones surrounded the place. It was our first time on the narrow, zigzag footpath, so we moved as slow as snails. Mum carried me, and then put me down to walk for short periods of time to relieve her. My sisters carried bundles of clothes and utensils. The village looked beautiful. It was green everywhere. When we passed, people looked at us and asked, “Who are you?” and we would introduce ourselves and they would tell us, “Karibu sana.” Welcome. We could hear squirrels chattering loudly in the caves as we passed by. There were red lizards on the rocks. Mum called them rishamogomo. She told us that once it came to you, it would stick on you until there was a thunderstorm. I was very scared of the red lizards. There were also monkeys on the path. Mum told us that if you threw a stone at the monkeys, instead of going away, they would pick it and aim it straight at you, and they never missed. I just hoped we would not get too close to them.
“Wooi, wooi, look at that big dog, it will bite us,” my sisters cried. “Hey, you little daughters of mine, those aren’t dogs, they are called cows. They don’t bite,” Mum told my shaken sisters. In Thika there was a white man’s compound near the plantation where there was a big dog with a scary bark. We believed any four legged animal was a dog. We knew nothing of cows, goats or sheep. On our way to the village, we saw many things we had not seen before and it seemed we were going to have great adventures.
We were a few minutes away from our home when I heard, “Pangalia! Paa! Chubwil!” The box that carried the fragile utensils had slipped from my big sister’s head and fallen on a rock. My mother put me down and went to help her. My other sister continued walking slowly with a small bag of clothes on her head. There is a saying that goes, ‘Isiongo yadikira kie muriango,’ a pot breaks at the doorstep. I could hear mum curse the devil.
“Umosigu umvi!” she said, as that was the end of few utensils we had. I believe my sister was happy because now her luggage had lessened. Mum put me on her back and we continued walking.
“Oh! What have you done to me, you couldn’t watch your steps carefully eh,” mum continued, “You know very well that here we are outsiders nobody is willing to welcome us, where are we going to borrow now.”
We had had walked since nine in the morning and it was now evening already. When we arrived at our boma, we were hungry, thirsty and exhausted. We went straight to our grandmother’s house, which was small and bent and looked like it was about to collapse. At the edges of the roof the grass had fallen and you could see rain marks on the walls. My grandmother greeted us and made us sit. Black tea was made and served in tins and old wrecked enamel cups. “Welcome home, visukuru, grandchildren,” she said with a broad smile on her wrinkled face. Unfortunately we didn’t understand the Maragoli language. We were used to speaking Kikuyu. After we had rested and woken up the next day, mum busied herself cleaning the house while we played outside. We found it difficult to talk with the other children. A member of our extended family said, “These children are not ours, because they cannot neither speak nor listen to Maragoli. Their parents’ didn’t train them how to behave in our society.” At the time, we only spoke to children who had stayed in Hatwara like Anyisa and her sisters and could speak Kikuyu. It is only we started to sing a Kikuyu song that the other children became our friends as they were excited to hear a song in a different language.
Our house was grass-thatched and mud-walled, with four small rooms. It was built under a big avocado tree. The compound was on a very small piece of land, which my father inherited from his father. Misango, my grandfather, had an acre of land, which he divided among his three sons and my grandmother. After building the house on our portion we were left with a small area to cultivate and grow food. There was a good view of Maragoli Forest and Lake Victoria, with boats as small as stars moving around the lake. The big rocks around had caves inside just like rooms of a house, where Maragoli, ancestor of the Maragoli people had lived. Many people from Luhya land come to camp there, especially after Christmas to usher in the New Year.
One morning, about a week after we moved to Kerongo, we woke to find Asamba, my dad’s eldest brother, trying to move the fence toward our shamba He did not stop or look scared when mum came and found him. Berisi, Asamba’s wife had been watching from a distance.
She came close and told mum, “Now you have seen my husband move the fence, what are you going to do?”
My mother moved the fence back. This continued to happen, Asamba moving the fence into our shamba and my mother moving it back to the original boundary. My parents had never really married. Even though they did come-we-stay, they loved each other. Mum had married earlier somewhere else and had four sons and a daughter. Her husband had passed away and she struggled to raise the children until they depended on themselves. She was lonely when she met dad. He was older but he had no wife, so they stayed together and our first-born Angela was born, then Orisa, and then me.
“These children belong to another man, our brother is barren, he cannot produce children,” Asamba told our mum.
Mum wrote dad in Thika to come back and settle the matter, but dad seemed to be scared of his brother. When we lived in Thika, Asamba had cultivated our portion of the land. The first house dad built had been burnt to the ground and mum always said Asamba had something to do with it. Asamba continued to plant maize and sorghum on the land after the house burned down and it was clear he did not want us there. Asamba had five cows, which meant he was well off. He could sell milk and sell cow dung to neighbors to smear their walls and for manure. He also made baskets, which he sold. Their life comfortable compared to ours. Dichori, his favorite cow, gave a lot of milk both in the morning and evening. Dichori was black in color with very long horns.
Mum didn’t despair. Instead, she encouraged dad to build again. And then when I was about three years old, dad traveled to Kerongo and built the house again. Luckily, the house stayed untouched for two years, although the roof was in bad condition. The grass thatch was pulled out by neighbors who needed to borrow fire. The neighbors would pluck grass from the roof, shape it to make a small hole in the middle, then place a small borrowed ember in the hole and carry it burning till they reached their homestead house to start a fire to cook meals. Mum sent for grass from Gisimba Hill near Maseno. The men who brought the grass charged twenty shillings a bundle. Finally the house was finished and we moved in.
When we moved to Kerongo, we felt that we had somebody to assist us in times of trouble while dad was away. But it did not turn out that way. Asamba’s family hated us. They did not welcome us when we came from Thika. Berisi was as bitter as a woman in labor pain. She often called us frogs, meaning my mother and us girls squatted when we urinated and there was no man in the house. Sometimes we wondered if they were really our relatives.
“If you give birth to frogs, you will not inherit any land here,” Berisi said to mum.
Mum was quiet for a long time before she said, “I once was a widow. I pray that you find yourself a widow one day, so that you get married again.”
Berisi turned without a word and went home with a bitter look on her face. One evening Asamba came with his walking stick to knock on our door. We had just come from school and changed into our home-clothes to help mum with her chores. As mum opened the door, he entered and said, “Areyo ovolendi umukere wange?” You know very well that you are not welcome here. You should go back where you left your other children. I don’t want to hear you complain about the shamba. It belongs to my brother.” He kept pointing his walking stick at mum and scaring her. Mum never said a word.
Jennifer, our neighbor and mum’s friend, came in after Asamba had left. She had seen Asamba over the fence and she knew the situation. Mum poured her heart to Jennifer, who listened and consoled her. Mum did not know Asamba was watching from his house. He came immediately Jennifer left and told mum she was not to discuss the matter. He started to beat her with his walking stick. Mum cried helplessly, and ran outside. He followed her as neighbors watched from far, scared to intervene. Angela, my eldest sister tried to hit him with a stone, but Asamba turned to her and she ran away. Mum was hurt badly and she wondered what kind people stood by and just watched.
That evening, mum went to the village sub-chief. It was late and the sub-chief’s place was far but she had to go. I went with her to report. She moaned and struggled to walk. As we passed homesteads, people would stop to ask what happened and console her. She cried and blew her nose with bare hands and the mucus landed on the grass. I never spoke to mum. I just felt what she was going through. After walking for a long time we reached the sub-chief’s homestead. He was tall, thin and never smiled. Everyone was scared of him, even though he had a kind wife. Mum told her what happened and she called her husband, the sub-chief. Mum explained everything to the sub-chief. He sent mum home promising to come early the following morning. Mum felt better after talking to the sub-chief. She did not cry as we went home. The sub-chief’s eldest son escorted us back so we reached safely as it was getting dark. Angela and Orisa, my sisters, were still shaken and could not cook or light the lamp. No one had the appetite to eat also, so we went to bed still scared Asamba might come back.
Very early in the morning, whistles blew as ligutu, the sub-chief’s assistants, announced the case in our shamba. Women and men delayed their chores and assembled at the meeting place. Asamba and mum were summoned. It was still very cold. As villagers sat on the rocks in the shamba, the sub-chief came in his uniform, and everyone stood until he made his way to the only chair. One of his assistants sat on a walking stick. The rest of them sat on the rocks with the villagers. Mum was called to tell her side of the case. Asamba sat facing her on the other side of the sub-chief. After the sub-chief questioned Asamba then heard his side, he warned Asamba not to cross our shamba, nor try to steal some of the land. He fined Asamba five chickens. Mum was also asked to give three chickens for the sub-chief and his ligutu.
I missed Saturdays at the dam in Hatwara but soon found something better. There was a pure crystalline stream called Idende not far from the house with a patch of bush where people hid behind to bathe. Even Nyavara Mugenya, the old woman in the village who took a bath only once a month, could not resist the stream. The sparkly water cascaded over sun-warmed rocks in a sing-song splatter. Sometimes, snakes and lizards crawled out of the bushes to warm themselves on the rocks, but it was said snakes normally didn’t bite in the water. There were also a lot of crabs and esede in the water. Esede were black insects which swam nonstop wherever there was water. They would go round and round without tiring. Esede were the same insects of which it was said once they bit your breasts they grew faster. My elder sister, Angela, could not wait to grow breasts. It was the same with most of the girls her age. Angela was nervous and she would ask mum all the time when hers were coming and her friend already had breasts. Whenever we were at the stream, she would place esede on her chest. Then one day her breasts stiffened. She couldn’t hide her excitement and everybody had to see her breasts.
Idende had deep parts and caves and then there was the sliding part where water slipped over big flat rock. This was the rock where children played. Saturday was for boys and Sunday was for girls. After Sunday school at about nine-thirty, the girls would take all the laundry even blankets to the river. Angela would block part of the stream with sand so it could widen and Orisa would soak the blankets while I jumped on the blanket with my small feet, cleaning as well as having fun. Once the blanket soaked through, my sisters would call their friends to help squeeze it, two on one side and two on the other. They would squeeze until most of the water came out, then beat it on a rock to dry it some more. It would now take a short time to dry and they moved on to washing the other clothes. After washing all the clothes, which took the rest of the morning, we piled them in basins and it would be time to shower.
Angela would make me stand as she applied soap on my skinny body, then she scrubbed every part of it with a rough stone, especially behind the ears. She used the same small bar of the fallow soap that was used for the clothes. After I was clean, she and Orisa would bathe, scrubbing each other. Because we bathed once a week we took enough time to make ourselves really clean. We then spread leaves on the flat rock and slide down to the deeper part at the end of the rock. When we were out of the water, we lay on the side of the river to dry. No boys came to the river until two in the afternoon, when it was time to bring the cows to drink. After we dried and dressed, we headed home feeling refreshed. Sunday was not a good day for people who lived downriver because they got very soapy water.
We had an alternate water source, a spring which flowed from a rock just outside the house. We used this water for cooking and other household needs. Others were not so lucky. My best friend, Minayo, had to fetch water from the stream on Sunday night they do fetch water on Sunday nights. Sometimes I went with her and would spend the night at her house. Minayo’s mother was mum’s good friend, so mum did not object to me spending the night at their place. Minayo and her siblings liked hearing me speak in my babyish voice and they would sing and ask me to dance for them. They used to give me the worn clothes that did not fit them anymore, and I loved them very much.
When we got to Kerongo, I started nursery school almost immediately. My sisters went to the primary school and I joined them after a year. Our home was not far from the school, although when you went to school it was downhill and coming back home was a steep climb up the hill. I liked school well enough except for the prefects. Some of the prefects were teenage boys, head-boys and timekeepers, but some had repeated classes so often that they were much older than the rest of the students. In those days you could find a standard eight pupil who was twenty and they made our lives miserable. You found somebody who had repeated class two or three for three years, because once they got low marks, they could proceed to the next class. Nowadays students don’t repeat classes like sometime back.
When I was a child I was very much attached to mum. Mum used to tell our neighbor Lina how I had followed her everywhere when I was young, and how I breastfed for long. Lina used to make fun of me and when she visited, she would want to hold me and force me to suck her breasts. I found it both bad and funny. I refused and really struggled then she let me go. Everybody used to laugh very hard. Lina sold omena, tiny fish the size of a small finger, which she bought at the main market in Luanda. Most of the people in the village used to buy omena from her. She has been doing the omena business most of her life. Sometimes, she’d give us omena and we would eat it raw. Since we arrived from Thika she had become one of mum’s close friends. But I started to hide whenever Lina visited so she would not see me because of the game she wanted to play.
My grandmother’s real name was Rebecca Andisi. She was beautiful when she was young, tall and brown. But she developed a hunch back as she grew older. She was a kind woman and welcomed us when we came to Kerongo, when we didn’t have anywhere else to go. I remember the day that we arrived, mum had bought some loaves of bread, and she gave one and gave one to my grandmother. My grandmother was so happy she danced around with it and said her son won’t even see it, so she went and hid it. The bread hidden beneath her sleeping clothes, my grandmother used to break little pieces and eat. The son she was hiding it from was Ombima. He was a bachelor who still lived with her and would come home drunk most nights and eat all the food in the house. We were told my grandmother had had twins several times, but most of them had died, leaving three boys, Asamba, Ombima and my father, and one daughter who was married about four kilometers away from Kerongo.
Though she barely walked, and then with the help of a walking stick, my grandmother farmed a small patch of tobacco that she smoked herself and also sold. She would dig sitting down with a panga. Sometimes Ombima smoked the tobacco she grew. Ombima rolled his in a newspaper while my grandmother smoked a pipe which she made with clay from the river. I remember her drying tobacco leaves in the kitchen. She hung them over the fire Sometimes people came and bought tobacco that she had dried and ground and she would have a little money. Then she would have money for offering when she went to church on Sunday and she would sing the church song that she sang whenever she was in a good mood. When she did not have money she took sugarcane from her small farm as offering. She went to the Orthodox Church, and the services were less fervent than the Pentecostal Assemblies of God church where mum took us.
My uncle Ombima was a lot like his mother, maybe because he had never married and always lived with her. They looked alike and behaved the same, except when he was drunk. We found him a bachelor when we came from Thika and up to the time I grew up and left Kerongo he was still a bachelor. Almost every night he came from drinking straight to our house wanting to eat. He could eat a lot of food. I think the changaa he drank made him hunger. Sometimes he went to Asamba’s house, but Asamba always chased him out. We could barely afford to feed ourselves, but mum was humble and never said no. There were several men in the village that brewed changaa and sold it. A few times Ombima brewed the changaa himself. Some nights he made it to the compound but not into the house. He spent the night under the big avocado tree. At night Leopards from Maragoli forest came out and we could hear them roar. There were also wild dogs that were called t-nines prowling around, but nothing ever happened to him. On those nights Ombima sang from outside:
Ongenge ndigona singira
I am going to die a bachelor
Then he screamed and screamed until I got scared. In the morning he came to see if there was any tea. He didn’t ask for tea directly, he pretended that he wanted fire for his cigarette. Then he would sit and ask “Musuka?” Musuka is tea without sugar. We took tea like that most times because we couldn’t afford sugar. Ombima had made up a game with us, so if you said, “Musuka?” he jumped up and said, “Eh!” It was like the game where the leader calls out different types of meat and if it was eaten you answered and jumped, and if not eaten you stood silent. If you jumped when, for example, donkey meat was called, you were out of the game. So we called, “Musuka?” And Ombima jumped, “Eh! Omwere bhujauchu nesi!” Only without sugar. Sometimes he called, “Uturungi?” Black tea. And if my sisters and I didn’t jump and answer fast enough then Ombima died with laughter, making us laugh because he didn’t have teeth and he looked funny with his mouth wide open. I was told one time Ombima was arrested for brewing changaa. He was caught by the sub-chief and taken to the police station in Vihiga where he was beaten until he lost his teeth.
Our relationship with Asamba and his family did not improve. He had eleven children and we barely spoke to any of them. When the first-born Ochuba died, I remember people in the village saying Berisi was a witch and she had to sacrifice her first-born. Asamba’s family was much better off that we were the whole time I was in Kerongo. Their house was neatly thatched and their cows grazed in and around their compound. Only a few people in the village owned cows. For us it was hard to imagine owning a cow. Once when dad was in Kerongo on his yearly leave around September, he went to the market and bought a cow to give as dowry to mum’s family. He had collected some money during the year to buy the cow. It was fat and brown and we liked it a lot. My sister Orisa wanted to sit on its back. She whined and complained till dad lifted her onto the cow’s back. The cow jumped up and down and threw her into the flowers. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. Dad left after two weeks and mum’s people were supposed to come get the cow in a few days. One day it was healthy and the next it dropped dead. We suspected it was given something but we never found out.
Asamba’s cows were huge. Some of his daughters had married and moved to Nandi. They brought Asamba a cow or two and the cows bred until there were five. The cows gave milk and cow dung. We used a lot of cow dung in the village and we usually borrowed or collected from the side of the road. Most Saturdays we had to smear the house with cow dung to fill any cracks and prevent water from coming in. We also smeared the inside of baskets with dung so they could be used to carry flour from the posho mill without spilling through the small holes in the weave. If you wanted to keep fire overnight, you took some dry cow dung put it in the fire and covered it with ashes. And during the day people came to our house to borrow fire. Most times we didn’t even bother to buy a matchbox. You could keep fire forever.
There was a time when a lot of bad things happened to Asamba. His remaining daughters got involved with men in the village and started to give birth. They were still young and in primary school. They never made it to high school. It brought Asamba great embarrassment to have several unmarried daughters with children in his compound. He had always carried himself like a good upstanding man. People talked about him and warned their children, “You see how Asamba’s children are giving giving birth.”
Asamba’s eldest son, Adogo, worked in Thika town while his wife lived in Kerongo, on a very small piece of land Asamba had cut for Adogo at the corner of his compound. Before he got married, Adogo had sent most of the money he earned to Asamba and Berisi. After he married, Adogo sent the money to his wife. The wife used some, sent some to her parents and gave what little was left to Asamba and Berisi. So they thoroughly disliked the wife. People even said Berisi had cursed her daughter-in-law. When she was giving birth, the child stuck. Mum heard her shouting and went to help but the child would not come out. Berisi was not at home. Even though they were not friends, mum had to find her and tell her to come and spit out the words she had said about her daughter-in-law. After Berisi was found, she repented, and told her daughter-in-law to give birth. Only then did the child come out. We all knew Asamba was eyeing Ombima’s piece so his sons could inherit. Ombima had no children of his own and no one to inherit. Just cutting for Adogo land had already lessened Asamba’s compound and he still had two sons left. This is what has happened now. Ombima died, and since Asamba was already farming the plot, it was easy to settle the rest of his sons on the land.
Reaching home one afternoon, we were surprised to see dad sitting outside the house. Dad normally came to Kerongo once a year in August or September. It was December. He was looking down and listening to his green radio. We ran to him shouting, “Ba-ba-ba-ba umugadi-umugadi.” Father-father bread-bread. We jumped on him shaking his hand happily as we always did and he gave us the Tropical Mint sweets that he always brought. Dad knew how we loved sweets. The only other time we ate them was when Ananda the village shopkeeper gave them out. Ananda would have given the children sweets till his shop collapsed.
We asked why he was home in December instead of August. I also told him that I had prayed in school and received Jesus in my heart. He was happy for me though he looked confused. I didn’t understand and so I entered the house to greet mum and sneak a piece of bread from the cupboard. Inside I saw dad’s green table that he used in Thika and wondered why he had come with it. Then mum said dad had come for good, since he was old now he had to stay home. Mum sounded upset I didn’t understand why she couldn’t be happy that dad would protect us from Asamba and Berisi.
I came to understand dad was retrenched without any warning and the retirement had come too soon. He had not bought many things he was planning on, like the mattress for mum and most important he had no way of paying Angela’s school-fees. Mum didn’t have a decent bed. The one she had was made from poles and gunia, burlap sacks filled with grass. My sisters slept on the floor on a bare mat. I slept with mum when dad was away and on the floor when he was home. Our house was almost collapsing on the ground. Umunyari dropped in our food and water if we didn’t put covers on them and we had to fish the little insects out. Dad cursed his boss day and night. He had worked hard, always believing tomorrow things might be better. He was going to start planting more crops in Kerongo to earn some more money.
Dad was almost sixty but still very strong. Mum told me he had given up drinking and smoking after we were born. He had always been a quiet man but it seemed that I barely heard him utter a word. The only time he spoke was to mutter how Elkana Kagavera could have sent him and not someone else home. Elkana had offered the company pickup to bring him to Kerongo but he refused. “Back at home our wives are best friends,” he said, referring to Lorna, Elkana Kagavera’s wife who lived in Kerongo. Lorna was not exactly best friends with mum, though she was nice and visited a few times. She was the big wife. Elkana had also married a Kikuyu woman named Anna in Thika and had another family living at Hatwara plantation.
When Dad came back to Kerongo for good, mum was at home expecting the end-month letter with the three hundred bob he used to send for food and school-fees. It was almost Christmas and my sisters and I were expecting the twenty shillings we got every year to buy new Sandak sandals. It turned out mum had to find more work digging for the neighbors. She could even dig for two people in one day. She would dig for one from morning till two in the afternoon, comes home to drink water, and then dig for another one till six in the evening. She knew if she didn’t work that hard we wouldn’t be able to eat. Dad was not good at digging, so he worked our small shamba planting potatoes and cassava for us to eat. While we were away at school, he’d cook lunch for us, wash dishes and even iron our clothes. His brothers told him he was doing women’s work but he didn’t seem to mind. I liked having dad around. He told us stories of how when he and his brothers were young they ate giant black and yellow stripped caterpillars. He showed us how they removed the insides then arranged them on a long stick for roasting. It was disgusting.
After a few weeks, Dad found a casual job at a neighbor’s taking care of cows and cleaning the compound. It kept him busy and he earned three hundred shillings in a month. But he kept complaining that he couldn’t work a lot because his legs are weak and sometimes they would swell. Dad loved mum much very much and always agreed with her whenever they discussed something. Except for church – he never went to mum’s Pentecostal church and always went to the Orthodox Church. Sometimes I went with him and sometimes I went with mum.
It was hard for my father to keep up the house. By the time he had money to fix one side of the roof, the other side was leaking. It rained a lot in Western province. During the rainy season it could rain for days. One time it rained, water leaked into our house until the grass fell apart and you could see the inside from outside. We put our things and slept under nylon paper. Sometimes the floor became soggy and we still had to sleep on it.
We usually ate ugali and vegetables but in April the rains came and we had something different to eat. I went up to the hills with my sisters and picked mushrooms to boil for lunch. There was also the termite season – from mafwendete, ikisisi, izindudna, amauri to amadele. Mafwendete usually came out at midnight and settled on the paths by six a.m. We woke up early and went to collect them at the road side. Sometimes we went with a tin of water and a sharp stick to the termite mound and poured the water and prodded the house with a stick till the termites came out. These were the sweetest termites and also the rarest. The most you got was half a cup. They had a lot of fat and went well with tea and ugali. Everyone was up early picking mafwendete and gossiping in the early morning cold.
Ikisisi came when there was rain on the previous night. We woke up early in the morning and want all over searching for their house. The house was identified by the approach of ants moving on the surface of the hole. They were attracted by the shaking of the ground so once we found the house my sister Angela placed a stone on the ground and hit it with another stone while we sang, “Iziswa, iziswa, turanendi itsindago.” After about thirty minutes the termites came out together with ants onto the banana leaves that we had placed to collect them. If we were lucky we got two kilograms. Sometimes we got long grass and stuck it in the holes for big ants to bite then we pulled them out. We ate them raw and they were bitter but nice. If you were not careful they would bite your lips or tongue. Other times we fried the big ants, mixed with small ants and termites. Mum dried them and we ate them for a whole week with ugali. We took some to school in our pockets for our friends who hadn’t managed to get any.
Amavuli were collected in the evening, when it had rained the previous night. Very many came out in a short time. If one recognized them, they’d shout
‘amavuli’ then we’d pick tins quickly and head to wherever they were coming out. We ate them like chicken, even their white and wings were not spared. We returned home with whatever we had collected.
Izindunda were also collected in the evening also from five p.m to six p.m. They had a hilly house which ants built. If they built at the side your house, it messed the wall so bad you would have to dig and destroy the whole wall to get rid of them. Although it had the harvest like that of Izisisi, the only difference was that they were collected in the late rainy season when the weather was calm and sunny. Their ‘tsindago’ ant were not as tasty as the Izisisi, but they came out late in the season and only very few lucky people would harvest, if kind enough they’d share. Betty used to have three mounds in her farm so she let us harvest one izindunda mound if ours came out poorly.
Amadele were the only termites collected in the rain. They were collected by children who loved to run in the rain catching them. Even the birds came out in the rain to pick at them. They were not so tasty, so many people did not pick them. They were longer had to be friend as they could not be eaten raw. Amadele came anytime at raining be it the morning, afternoon or evening as long as they felt the rain.
The last kind of termites I know are very tiny and different in shape from all the others. They came out after a rain when the weather is calm. In the evening they liked to come when amavuli came and sometimes they came before amavuli and confused us. Only after we run there to find it was Amachilondo. We were discouraged from eating amachillondo as it was believed they would make you deaf. God had spared this kind for birds and the chicken enjoyed the amachilando undisturbed.
It did not help that the Ligutu came around in the evenings whistling and saying, tomorrow we are coming for the stamp. We are coming for the stamp so be prepared, they warned. When they come, they did not accept any excuses like you did not have any notice. We had to go with their rules. They were looking for people who did not have KANU cards or had not purchased a stamp to go on their cards. The stamps cost twenty shillings and if had no stamp for that month, the carried your table, your hen or cock, or even basins. They didn’t care if you were poor, they took anything you had to the sub-chief’s office. If you followed your hen which they had taken and you made a payment, the Ligutu would return it to you but it if it had laid eggs it would now be barren. No one knew why. The Ligutu frightened people. It was a bad omen for the Ligutu to come to your home and people in the village would talk all about it. “Amagutu gagendi hango ha vuyu,” the elders walked at so and so’s homestead. Mum used money from digging to pay for the stamps, so the Ligutu rarely came to our home.
Around the same time a murram road was being constructed from Mahanga to Musunguti and they made people in the village work without any compensation. Big lorries brought murram and dumped it at the side of the road. The lorries were loud and scary we ran to mum screaming whenever they approached. At six am the Ligutu blew their whistles and shouted, “People, people, get out and start working. Harambee!” Everyone dashed out with their hoes to dig the road. Older children were not spared. If you missed the Ligutu whipped you mercilessly. Sometimes your chickens disappeared even if you had paid for the stamps and there was nothing we could do to stop them. We took karais and carried the heaps of murram the lorries had poured with onto the road flattened it with hoes.
The same thing happened when water was piped from Msunguti to Mahanga. Every Saturday it was the Ligutu blew their whistles as early as 5.30 in the morning shouting today you are going to construct the water. Mum and my sisters came out quickly when the whistles blew. They dug for two or three housrs then the Ligutu would leave us to our own work till the next Saturday. Every body had to dig a terrace from their shamba. We dug our part of the three foot trench so that the pipes could be laid. It passed through our shamba, but we were neither involved nor consulted. We continued to draw water from the well in our compound. Besides mum said that the water from Msunguti had muyaga, bacteria that made people sick. They just made an open dam and connected the pipe all the way to Mahanga, about five kilometers away. Once we went to see the dam and it had green stuff in it. People paid to pull the water into their compounds, but then it was used for washing and for the cows. Sometimes even the animals got sick.
When I was in standard five, mum enrolled me in baptism classes. Around this time Elkana Kagavera’s son, Oyugi, became a Christian to the great disappointment of his father. Elkana and Lorna had many children but only one son. Elkana had great hopes that his son would get an education and become a big man. Oyugi let him down by deserting a G.S.U. training course at Kiganjo and becoming a serious man of God. It upset Elkana so much that he practically abandoned Lorna and her children and spent his time and efforts on his other family back in Thika.
Before Oyugi got saved, he was full of mischief and always getting into trouble. He was very popular among the older girls and was always going into the bushes with one of them. I remember him sneaking with a girl into the stone house his father was building. The house was empty and had construction materials outside. Oyugi had a tin lamp that smoked a lot and the black smoke damaged the walls that were being painted. When the mother complained, he didn’t listen, but kept sneaking back into the house. “Your father is going to finish us!” Lorna shouted. Everyone knew she was afraid of Elkana.
One day a man named Ndugu came to the village. He was tall, thin and very dark. He just appeared in the village, built a small house and it seemed like he had always there. He started a fellowship and girls got lost there. Somehow he befriended Oyugi. It seemed Oyugi was on holiday and had nothing to do and all the girls were going to Ndugu’s house. Ndugu prayed for him, and Oyugi became saved and he changed. He went from chasing girls and sneaking in the bushes to helping Ndugu with prayers. The whole village couldn’t believe it. The boys in the village were not into Christianity. They loved raha. Ndugu’s followers were mostly girls and they got into trouble by going to Ndugu’s because their parents did not approve. Their parents often reported them in school and they were punished. I remember some girls at break time who kept saying, “Even if I am punished, I will still be with my Jesus.”
After he got saved Oyugi came to our school to ask permission to preach to the students. The headmaster granted permission. The prayer was in the standard three classroom, the biggest room in the school. Only girls who went for the prayers, but we were so many it was squeezed inside. There were choruses, we sang and danced. After singing, Oyugi read a few verses and preached for a long time. He then told people to talk to Jesus and pray about their problems or repent if they had sinned. Some of the girls were very good at it. These were the girls who were older and went to Ndugu’s fellowships. They carried their hands up and just cried and cried. I started to cry myself, caught up by emotions, even though I didn’t know what I was crying about.
Oyugi continued to preach and we closed our eyes and prayed. I opened my eyes slightly, afraid I would find him looking at me. Some of the girls were praying with their heads on the desks. Suddenly, he told everybody to stop and the room became quiet. Oyugi said those who felt Jesus and had received him should go to the front. Many girls went in front and I went with them. It is only when I was at the front that I realized none of my friends had come with me.
“Praise God, I have just gotten saved!” The first girl started. I was young, around eleven, and I couldn’t have really known what getting saved was. I had never given a testimony before. When my turn came I just copied what the others had said. I still had a problem speaking clearly and it came out, “Puyeish the Lord.” My friends Minayo and Sagina could not hold back and I heard laughter from where they sat. It was late and most of the teachers had left. Only the deputy headmaster had stayed to lock the class when we finished. On the way home the boys were waiting to make fun of us. We hurried along and didn’t listen to them as we worried my mother would punish us for being late. We reached the junction to our home and most of our friends went the other direction. We tried to tap each other, chazo and run home before the last person tapped could catch us.
I continued my baptism classes every Saturday. After a few months it was time for the baptism. The last Saturday of class there was to be a kesha, a gathering where people prayed overnight. It was one of the worst nights in my life. Pastor Goeithi forced each one of us to pray, to repent and beat our feet hard on the floor while shouting, “Forgive me Jesus, I have been a sinner! Forgive me… forgive me.” He said he would not let us go until he saw mucus, plus tears and saliva come together. That was when he would know we were serious. I beat my feet and shouted, “Forgive me Jesus, I have been a sinner. Forgive me, forgive me,” but no tears came out. Pastor Goeithi was angry at me and kept saying, “Go, go, go to Jesus!” But nothing came. To make matters worse we had to get our heads shaved. Minayo had come to the kesha, not to participate in the prayers but to tell our other friends stories so I would be the laughing stock of the week.
On the baptism day, I wore a white dress, very white, and my head was shaved with a razor blade. We went to church very early in the morning, set up a line in between and then the church members come. We were all wearing white. We danced from the church to the river, singing while people beat drums. We sang a Luhya song about Jesus walking on water. As it was a baptismal day, the river had been blocked with banana stems to collect the water into a pool. Two pastors in white shirts were in the water. One held a towel. We lined up by the river and entered one by one. Pastor Goeithi told me to hold my hands across my chest. He then asked my name, prayed, saying thank you God for Eva. He put one hand at the back of my head and pushed me with the other into the water. I entered the river backward and the water entered my nose and mouth. Then he lifted me out of the water and wiped my face with the towel.
When I came out, one of the women from the church was on the side of the river. She was a kind of companion chosen to hold your clothes and assist you through the baptism. She took me to the changing room and gave me a dry set of clothes. When going home, you were not supposed to look behind or talk to anybody. You are not supposed to talk at all. My sister was made so much fun of me trying to make me talk. It was a somber occasion and I was not supposed to smile even a little but I could not help it and I had to press my lips together so I would not laugh. When I reached home, I sat with the companion I had been given till my godmother came in to house and prayed. After the prayers were finished, I was allowed to talk. Being forced to pray even after I was baptized made me angry at the pastor. I remembered all those things he forced on us, the confusion that accompanied his shouting, “Yeah, just repent and do many things. Yeah. Repent! Go! You girls go, go, go! All those bad things you did to your parents, go to Jesus go!”
After that, I said PAG was just not my kind of church. The following Sunday we went back there to get our baptismal cards. After I got my baptismal card I vowed not to return to that church again. Dad was a little startled but he welcomed the company when I started going with him to the Orthodox church. The good thing about Orthodox, they don’t force you to do anything. We just sang and read scriptures. Up to now, dad and I are Orthodox and mom my sisters are Pentecostal.
In all our struggles, school was the one bright thing stood out. I enjoyed my classes and worked hard. I would walk down the hill to school every morning with a lot of energy and came back up the steep hill tired and sluggish. It may have been that just the difficult walk up the hill, but I believe going home dampened my spirit. I liked the classes and enjoyed studies with teachers of various subjects. The other students ranged in age. Some of prefects and the timekeeper were older teenage boys who had been school for a long time. They had repeated classes many times. We even had a class eight pupil who was twenty.
In standard one to three we learnt in English and Swahili, but spoke Maragoli outside class, during break times when we were playing or talking about home things. By standard four Mr. Isuvu, an English teacher, was charged with ensuring the children didn’t speak mother tongue. He said he wanted us to speak English and Kiswahili perfectly, so he introduced the disc. The disc was a round wood object that you were given to carry in your pocket when you spoke vernacular. On Monday morning a prefect would take it and give it to the first person he heard talking vernacular.
Once my friend Minayo kept talking to me in Maragoli and I told her to talk in English.
“No one is looking,” she said and sneered a little like I was the complete rule follower. When I answered in Maragoli she laughed and handed me the disc.
So it became a great game that when somebody had it and they wanted to get rid of it, they would make an elaborate plan of how they would con their friends into talking vernacular and taking the disc. The more people witnessed you getting the disc the angrier you became, and the more you planned to humiliate the next person you heard talking vernacular.
It went on like that, the disc being passed from person to person, until Friday, which was discipline day. Before we went home Mr. Isuvu called an assembly on the parade ground. He stood there looking stern with his hands clasped behind him and said, “I want my discs back.” Then he would ask you who gave you the disc? Emma gave you, Emma? Brian, and so on till it reached the prefect who had it on Monday. We then lined up to be beaten and were told to come with hoes on Monday to dig the flowerbeds and complete our punishment.
But week after week despite being beaten and digging the flower beds we found ourselves holding the disc and conning our friends into taking vernacular and taking the disc. So if they knew you had the disc, they kept quiet or if you walked towards a group, they all ran away. You ended up being alone. It was nearly impossible to talk just English and Swahili when not reading in class. I got the disc more times than I can count. Sometimes I spoke to the person giving it to me and when they replied, I gave it back to them immediately. If you got the disc more than once in the same week your punishment was doubled. Sometimes the students just threw the discs away. When this happened Mr. Isuvu twisted his mouth in anger, unable to trace a whole line of vernacular speaking students who deserved punishment. When students throwing or hiding the discs became too much, he came and asked who had the disc and if we did not answer he beat up the whole class. And on Monday, the whole class would be out digging the flower beds but we never cared.
My favorite teacher was Madam Rosemary. She was a very kind lady and had taught my sisters before me. I always wanted her to notice me. Her subject was Christian Religious Education and she told interesting bible stories and sang songs to go with them. I especially enjoyed the story of Noah and the flood. I think Madam Rosemary had diabetes, because she used to ask the students if they had sorghum or millet on their parents farms so they could sell it to her. She liked brown ugali and would never take white ugali. I used to steal sorghum from mom’s shamba and take it to Madam Rosemary’s home, also so I could have an excuse to visit her house. Her house was made of stone and had nice sofas with white embroidered cloths covering them. I sat on them, my bare feet barely reaching the floor and admired the things she had around the house. She would offer me money for the sorghum but I always refused so instead she gave me sugar and a small bag of tealeaves. Mum was always mad that I had taken the sorghum till I showed her the sugar and tea. Sometimes I went back home with nothing but mum always cooled off saying how nice Madam Rosemary was. It just made me steal more sorghum for Madam Rosemary.
My English teacher, Madam Mary was not liked in the school. She talked a lot and was always behind rumors going around in the school. Whatever went on in the village, she talked about on Monday to entertain herself and the other teachers. We called her Mwana, which means child, because if there had been a fight in your boma over the weekend, on Monday she called you to the staff room when she was with the other teachers and asked in a caring voice, “Hey Eva mwana, your parents had fought on Saturday or what was going on at your place?” There was always a malicious look in her eye and you could tell she had been talking about it to the other teachers and just wanted to humiliate you. As students we were shy and we did not want to be rude, so we looked down and narrated what had happened in our boma with Madam Mary encouraging you the whole time, “Ahh mwana, tell me… tell me…” Then she dismissed you and you felt she was going to continue laughing at you. I went to visit my parents recently and found Madam Mary in the village. She was walking to her house, she has gained weight and is still a big gossip. I was still tempted to call her Mwana. She is still teaching though she is about to retire.
In standard five we found a boy named Tom, but nicknamed Nyunyu, who had repeated so many times he was almost twenty. He had a slow way about him and people made fun of him till he cried. When we sang head shoulders knees and toes he got confused and could not keep up. The teacher made us go to the front of the class and sing the song sending those who got it right back to their seats. Nyunyu was always last and he stood singing till he cried and the teacher felt sorry for him and told him to sit down. He never completed school and is now in the avocado selling business.
That year I became the class prefect because I had been first every year from class one to four. Mr. Isuvu was our class teacher. I used to give out the disc on Mondays and write down the noise makers so Mr. Isuvu could punish them. He was so harsh that sometimes the students preferred that I punish them myself. So I told them to line up and I beat them with a cane that Mr. Isuvu kept in class. When I think about it now it probably wasn’t so painful because I was really small. Some of the boys who had repeated were quite big and because I was a prefect, despite my size, I could punish them.
As a prefect my other duties included collecting exercise books with homework and taking them to the office, get the teacher a chair before the classes started at eight and the noisemakers list. The other students were afraid of the noisemakers list so they treated prefects with a lot of respect. The best thing about being a prefect was it got me out of work, especially smearing the classroom walls. When the children were sent by teachers to carry sand and stones from the river to build, or when Mwana made children dig, plant and harvest maize for her, I stood outside with the other prefects relaxing.
As a prefect the only activity I took part in was games. I was a good runner and represented my school in the 800 meters event, but the school in Msunguti had the fastest runners. The competitions between the schools were a time of great excitement. Runners from Msunguti, Lyaniagare, Kisingiru and Kitumba came to Kerongo and we all went to cheer our teams on the field. We envied Kitumba with their posh red and white uniforms. Sometimes people said Lyaniagare hired people from outside who were high school dropouts to win the competitions, but they always lost. After races, the runners got white powder glucose which was very sweet. The teachers put it on the cupped palm of your hand for you to lick and my friends surrounded me to share even if it was just a teaspoon.
On the competition days we had soda and half loaf, which we called yamagare. It was very mean of you to finish your soda as little as it was. You would take some home for your family to taste because it was a rare thing. The winners went to the next level, the districts, then the provincials and national. I always wanted to got to the districts and get a certificate, but I never made it past the division level.
On weekends we picked coffee for Lorna, the wife of my dad’s former boss, which made me think of our days in Thika. She paid the other kids but she didn’t pay us because she lent my mum a farm on the hillside where mum grew sorghum. In appreciation mum sent my sisters and I to pick for Ng’ang’a coffee. Sometimes mum also came and helped us pick coffee. The hardest thing was carrying the coffee to the factory at Wamando, thirteen kilometers away. Lorna promised to pay us for taking the coffee to Wamando as it was not part of the arrangement she had with mom. We chatted and sucked coffee beans while we picked then poured them on the ground and selected the bad ones, throwing them away.
At two in the afternoon we set out for Wamando. If your coffee wasn’t clean when you got to the factory, they would make you take it back. I always hated the journey. We trekked barefoot on the murram road with heavy bags filled with coffee on our heads. At the tarmac road we rested for a few minutes before continuing. Lorna always promised to pay us when she got her allowances from the coffee company. She never did. Later I heard she had paid Vidija, Oyugi and Angugwa in secret. I found it unfair and brought it up with mum, who told me not to complain and where did I think our food was coming from.
In 1993 I was to register for KCPE, the final exam that we sat at the end of standard eight. The previous December I had worked hard collecting money for KCPE because I knew at home we wouldn’t have any money left over. I helped our neighbor decorate her house. Every morning during the December holiday I would go to the neighbor’s house. She had a nice house and we whitewashed the outside and painted decorations with colored clay on them. At the end of the holiday she gave me 200 shillings, which I gave mum to keep for me till the registration time came.
At some point before registration, mum was really broke so she convinced me saying, “Now, let us use the money and then before you open school, I’ll have found it.” I could not imagine that she would not replace the registration money. She used it to buy food, soap and other household essentials. When we opened school, mum came to me and told me to go back to class seven as I was still young. I didn’t want to repeat because I had never repeated and I wanted to finish school.
Mum continued to convince me to repeat class seven but I would not repeat, so I had to figure out what to do. My sisters didn’t have any money, dad didn’t have any money and there I was: everyone was registering for KCPE and I did not have the money. The deadline passed and everyone else had paid when the headmaster came to class and said everyone who had not paid for KCPE should go back to class seven by the following week. I didn’t know where the money would come from but I did not want to go back to class seven.
The following day the headmaster was to send the registration forms and money to the district education offices. So if I did not have the money I would definitely have to repeat class seven. That night I refused to eat. I sat in the house looking pointedly at mum. I didn’t want to talk to anyone in the house. I wanted them to know how angry I was. I kept making loud noises and talking to myself, saying how I had been betrayed by my own mother. At some point I broke down crying. I was still crying with my head in my hands when Angela put fifty shillings on the table. When dad saw that he went to his room and brought thirty shillings. Orisa put forty. I had ten shillings and mum put all the coins she had till we reached two hundred.
That morning I woke up at four thirty and dressed quickly. It was cold, dark and scary but I did not care. All I wanted was to give the headmaster the money so I could register in class eight. His home was about five kilometers away and dad wanted to come but I said he would just slow me down. I ran most of the way and got there when the sun was about to come up. The headmaster was getting ready and his wife let me into the house and gave me tea while I waited for him. I gave him the money with a big sense of relief that I was going to be in class eight.
We had trouble paying school fees the rest of the year. In assembly the headmaster called the list of people who had not paid fees and I was always there. He beat us then sent us home to get money. I managed to scrape together the money for first and second term but by third term we agreed that Angela would tutor me with the encyclopedia and I would go at the end of the term to sit for my KCPE exams. Angela tutored me at night in the light of a small tin lamp we had. If we didn’t have paraffin we hurried with our lessons before it became dark. My friend Emma who was in class also brought me her notes and sometimes came to do homework at our house.. I improved my English and Swahili but Mathematics was still a problem. I read hard and passed the exam but I understood with the situation we were in, there was no way I was going to high school.
Around the time I was doing my exams, we were still waiting for the short rains. The rains were sometimes late but they had never completely failed like they did that year. It seemed like each day was hotter than the day before and everything became brown then withered. Mum used to go and find some wild leaves to and boil them for us. In the morning we drank black tea without sugar. and I noticed mom and dad served us but did not eat themselves. I could count dad’s ribs without touching them. Every day brought news of somebody who had died from hunger and people started referring to the hunger as ‘Isave Ilara,’ wash once. Because when there was food before people took their time washing their hands but now people barely dipped their hands into water before eating.
One day Angela told me she was going with her friend find a digging job in Luoland about six kilometers away. When she found me following them she told me to back home but I refused. The whole way we saw how thin the animals in people’s compounds had become. We got to the first home and asked for work but there was none. The second compound had work, weeding beans, I started to dig and Angela went to the next house to see if there was work. I dug from eight in the morning to three in the afternoon when the woman of the house asked me to come in for lunch. She had made sweet potatoes and tea. After lunch the woman asked me if I wanted to be paid in sweet potatoes or money. I asked for sweet potatoes. I went back to the farm and harvested some sweet potatoes, wrapped in leaves and waited for Angela. She arrived shortly after with her friend who was carrying cassava under her arm. Angela had money.
Going home was climbing a mountain. By the time we reached I was so finished. Mum cooked the potatoes and we ate them water. Everyone ate except Orisa. Angela commented on how Orisa had not been eating and Orisa snapped at her. Angela continued, not bothered, saying Orisa had been very harsh lately, and how when cooked, she didn’t want anyone around her. Mum was suspicious and she grabbed Orisa and started touching her stomach. Orisa was pregnant. She was only sixteen and mum was so depressed.
Orisa had finished standard seven that year. When I was in class one, Orisa was in class two. I went to class two and she repeated so we were together in class two, and the next year in class three. The following year I left her in class three. So by the time I was finishing class eight, she was behind me by a year. She came with us home and the same time. We shared a room with her and only a curtain divided us from where our parents slept. If she had been sneaking out at night to see a boy in the village we would have known. In class seven, there was this teacher that had come to the school. We were told the teacher slept with her and there was a case. Mum went and reported Orisa to the headmaster in the school. When mom left the headmaster called Orisa to the office and beat her. After that Orisa came home and never went back to school. Angela and I continued going to Luoland to find work digging. Some days we had no work and we came back to eat boiled leaves that mom had collected. This was when we all grew thin.
I had finished class eight, the hunger was finally over and schools were re-opening. All my friends were getting ready to go to high school but I did not have any hope of going to form one as we could not afford school fees. I did not want to sit around and watch my friends going to school, so I asked my former teacher Judy to find me something to do. I told her I would work for anybody and she agreed to look around for a job. I went home and discussed with my parents the house-girl job but they were completely against it. My dad was trying to convince our priest to educate me through the donors but the priest only educated his children and his relations with the donor money. My parents wanted to sell a cow so I could join high school but I would not let them.
The day after Christmas Judy sent her younger brother to call me and I went to see her. It was a Sunday and everyone was visiting the neighbors after church. She told me her aunt named Asaji who lived near Maseno needed a maid. I was to earn 300 shillings a month, for me an unimaginable amount. Asaji was also a teacher. She taught at a school called Mmazi. I was excited to find a job, my first job after school. I was to leave immediately. I agreed quickly and ran back home. There was nobody home, so I did not tell anyone where I was going. I packed a few clothes in a plastic bag ran back to Judy’s house.
I went with Judy to Asaji’s father’s house, a short distance away. They were having a memorial for Asaji’s father who had died some weeks before. After memorial, she was going to go back to school to teach. It was almost opening day and she had a new baby and four other children, in addition to two younger sisters she had taken on now that their father had died. We sat down and agreed that Asaji would pay me 300 shillings per month. I had never had that kind of money before. At the time I did not think of the many children I would have to take of and the many chores I would have to do I was excited and I just agreed to everything she told me. She said you’ll do this? You’ll do this? You’ll do that? And I said yes, yes, yes.
After that, we left and went through Mahanga to Kima. I had thought we were going by car but we took a matatu I consoled myself by thinking how good it was that I would be taking a matatu to come home now, alight and just walka short distance home. But at Kima we had to walk a long distance through a rocky area till we reached Mmazi. I didn’t worry too much because I was used to rocky places.
I was to take care of the two younger children while the other three went to school together with Asaji’s younger sisters. One sister was a boarder at the secondary school and they other one was going to class seven. I had to wake up early every morning and walk far to fetch water. I carried a jerry-can on my head holding it in place with one hand while holding on to the rocks near the river with the other for balance. The place where we fetched water was bushy it scared me when I was alone. I was always afraid something was peeping at me from the bushes. I also had to go to the shamba to pick terere, small vegetables to boil so there could be enough soup for everyone to eat at one o’clock. I came back and made tea and helped the children get ready for school. After breakfast I sat the baby in a basin stuffed with clothes then I could do laundry, washing dirty nappies and other clothes.
After that I took the children to their grandmother’s while I cooked lunch. After lunch, I washed the many dishes, cleaned the house, and went to look for firewood. By then it was already evening and time to cook dinner. I had never cooked while at home. The first time I had to cook ugali I cried. Onyango, the shamba-boy who also took care of the animals, came into the house and found me crying. He took the mwiko and poured the flour into the hot water and started stirring. Onyango did this for a few days, coming into the house and helping me cook the ugali till I got the hang of it. After the first week he continued coming in but so he could sing and tell us stories. He had a nice singing-voice even though he smoked a lot. He sang in a church choir on Sundays.
I got used to the work and started enjoying it. Asaji paid me promptly at the end of the month. Judy came to visit and she took my salary home. My family had been looking for me and Judy had to explain where I was. With the salary my family ate well for the month and they came to rely on me. My sisters started to visit me so I was not so lonely anymore. Orisa used to visit most weekends, taking a matatu and walking slowly the last portion of the journey. She always liked when I cooked for her. Angela had moved to a Christian camp in Nandi so she came less often. I worked for one year and only took Sunday’s off at the end of the month to take my salary home. I took all the money I earned in that year home except for one month when Asija told me I should get some new clothes and she took me to her tailor to get a kitenge made.
After a year of working non-stop I was tired. Walking to fetch water every day was exhausting and the work seemed like it would never end. I wanted to leave. When Angela came to visit me from the Christian camp where she lived in Nandi, I asked her to find me something in the city. She had friends who worked in Nairobi. They were the daughters of our neighbor Agrey and had been in the same class as Angela. After school he sent them to Nairobi to work for people. Whenever they came back to the village to visit, I stared at them. They looked so pretty. Brown and healthy, with plaited hair and good clothes. That was the kind of life I wanted. I wanted to plait my hair and look as smart as they did. The youngest and most talkative of Agrey’s daughters was named Mary. We went to see her when she was in the village and listened to her stories of Nairobi. She told us how in Nairobi, you watched TV and saw Kanda Bongoman singing, “Inde… Inde… Inde Moni.” Then she stood up bunched her hands into fists and moved them side to side while shaking her bottom. I always wished I could leave everything and go to Nairobi.
One afternoon Angela came to see me. I was surprised to see her as it was a weekday. She told me she had found a job for me as house girl in Nairobi. She didn’t know exactly who the people were, but she knew they were rich people from Maragoli who now lived in Donholm. I finished the cleaning quickly and waited for Mama Eddie to come home to tell her I was leaving so she would pay me for the month. I was excited and could hardly contain myself. I could not wait to go to Nairobi. I talked with Angela about Nairobi while I cleared up and then I looked at myself, dirty, skinny, with weird old clothes and cracked feet, and for a moment I did not want to go anywhere.
“You are supposed to be going with him tomorrow to Nairobi,” Angela said, breaking into my thoughts. I just heard the two words, “Nairobi, tomorrow,” over and over again, and my imagination started going wild and I saw myself as a smart as Angela’s friends. And I thought Nairobi is where you go to get clean, to get yourself washed. So I resolved Nairobi was where I wanted to be.
Angela left me waiting for Mama Eddie and went back to Nandi. She had given me the details of where the man I was traveling with to Nairobi would wait for me. He was to come to our home in Kerongo the next day. The time seemed to pass very slowly and I was anxious. The children were with their grandmother and I did not pick them as I usually would. Mama Eddie was late and I did not want to miss my chance to go to Nairobi. I packed so I would be ready immediately Mama Eddie came but she did not come. Then I went to her room and saw a hundred shillings in silvers, in tens. I counted them, then put them back. I counted them again, then put them back. I counted them, put them back. Then I counted them, took them and left her a note. In the note I asked her to take the remaining 200 shillings of my salary to my parents. Then I took the paper bag with my clothes and ran to the road to catch one of the last matatus to Kerongo. In my hurry I did not lock the house door. I met one of the neighbors on the way to the road and she asked me where I was rushing to. “Nairobi!” I replied to her surprise.
I alighted in Kerongo and raced through the rocky paths to our house. I found dad sitting outside, greeted him, gave him twenty shillings, then told him I was going to look for more money in Nairobi. He barely said anything before I was running again, thinking my sister’s friend was going to leave me. Only to reach there and he did not show the slightest sign of hurrying. I spent the night and we left in the morning.
Back home Mama Eddie had followed me and found my dad still sitting outside with the twenty shillings I gave him. She told him that I had stolen a thousand shillings from her and I was running away and I had to be found quickly. My dad showed her the money I had given him and matters worsened. But I did not know this as I boarded the bus to Nairobi with all the dreams in my head. We traveled the whole day passing through many centers and towns till we reached Nairobi. The Benways bus was so fast and comfortable that I barely felt the journey. It was night when we arrived in Nairobi and I did not see much of the city.
We took a matatu from the bus-stage to Donholm. The family was excited to see me as I was to see them. They had a good home with a telephone, a TV, a fridge, a microwave and a cooker. I had never seen a TV before. Everything in the kitchen was new to me. I was just used to cooking on a three-stone fire. I was afraid to ask what all the things were for. The lady of the house was very kind. She came and showed me how all the things worked.
I was enjoying my first week in Nairobi, when the phone rang and the lady I worked for picked it up. She spoke in serious tones then came to tell me that I would be going back home to Kerongo. It turned out that after I left the neighbor I met on the way had told Mama Eddie that I was going.
Mama Eddie went first to see if the children were alright at their grandmother’s. She then rushed with the three men who worked for her, Onyango and the two that herded her cows. She stormed into our compound saying, “You know Eva has gone.” My mother was home by this time but she said she had no idea where I had gone. My father was still sitting where I had left him.
“Eva has gone and she has stolen my money. She has stolen my 1000 shillings,” said Mama Eddie.
Dad said I had passed by and given him money.
“I have to look inside your house,” said Mama Eddie.
Mum and dad were in shock as Mama Eddie and her men went inside the house and searched through boxes and cupboards, leaving everything in a mess. Mama Eddie did not find anything but she went to the sub-chief to complain. The whole week, ligutu came to our compound to harass mum and dad. They sent Mama Eddie’s brother to the Church camp in Nandi where Angela was staying. He went to the head of the camp and Angela was asked to leave, but first they emptied her metal box and looked through all her things. She came back home very bitter.
I got on a bus back to Kerongo barely one week after I had arrived in Nairobi. The woman gave me 200 shillings and gave the man 500 shillings to give to my mother. At the Machakos bus stop I removed some money to buy pears but the man who was taking me back home would not let me. I was in slippers and I saw rubber-shoes and I said tom, “Si you let me buy those rubbers I wear them.” But he would not let me. I wondered how I could go home without any shoes and the shoes are just here. The man told me I would need all the money I had when I got back home. I should have thought something of it but I didn’t. When we got home the man told me, “You go. Tell your mum I am coming to see her tomorrow.” I was excited as I walked home thinking of all the stories I would tell everyone. At least I had set foot in Nairobi. I met my sister Angela on the road. I greeted her but she was acting funny, like she was not surprised to see me. “Kwani what’s going on?” I asked. She didn’t say anything, just turned and walked toward the house. All the way home I could sense people were looking at me. At the posho mill near the road, people came out to peep at me. I kept waving hi, oblivious while everybody knew what was going on, what my family had been through. When we reached home, everyone was excited to see me. Mum came from the shamba quickly, wiped the dust from her feet and said, “Oh thank God, thank God my child is here.” We entered the house and found dad and Orisa. Then mum started praying and I could hear her almost whispering, “Oh Jesus, even if we are going to meet them, let this be a peaceful and humble meeting…”
Meet who? After they said Amen, I asked her, “Kwani who are you meeting?”
“Ah, it’s good you are here,” mum said. “We have gone through so much, we’ve been harassed, the sub-chief has beaten us, they said you stole money from Imatsi, where you were working, they have harassed everybody. You sister has been harassed, here is her box, they broke into it, they thought she had the stolen money.”
“I just took a hundred bob!” I said.
“Ok, where is the person who came with you?”
“He is coming tomorrow.”
“When he comes, we are going to go with him to Imatsi. There is a case. We are even going with the Ligutu.”
When I heard the word Ligutu I froze. “Eeh! How come she said I stole her money and it was only a hundred bob, and I wrote her a note?” I explained that I wrote her a note, telling her that I am coming to Nairobi.
Pieces of the story began to form. It emerged that Mama Eddie had found the name of the woman I was working for in Nairobi and it turned out they were distant relatives. She called the woman and told her I had stolen money and to look around to see if she could find it. The woman went through my things but did not find any money. But Mama Eddie kept calling her asking her to release me and she had to send me back to the village. I admit I left Mama Eddie in a bad way but I did not steal any money, except the hundred bob I had taken, and I left a note.
The following day we went to Mama Eddie’s place with the Ligutu, the man from Nairobi, my sister and mum. It was a Saturday and Mama Eddie was washing clothes along with her neighbors. They stared at us as we waited for Mama Eddie to show us into the house. We sat down and the Ligutu said to Mama Eddie, “You said Eva stole your money, here she is, you can talk to her.”
Mama Eddie turned to me and said, “Eva, that day you left, the money disappeared. I don’t know if you stole or somebody just got into the house after you left and took the money.”
“Me I only took a hundred bob, I left you the note. Did you see the note?”
“I said I took a hundred, you give akina my mum 200, you stay with the rest?”
“So, why did you say I stole your money?”
She hesitated and fumbled for an explanation, “Maybe it was somebody who came in once you left.”
Then she made up stories until Ligutu and that man knew it was all a lie. The man looked annoyed and said, “Sasa umeharibia mtoto kazi in Nairobi. You have messed her work. The child was settling well with the other children.”
I was also going to be paid 500 a month, so this was a big loss. My sister Angela wanted to be compensated as they had spoilt her name and broken her box. Mama Eddie’s tone changed and she said she was sorry, and that I should go back to my job in Nairobi. Mum prayed after the meeting and we went outside. I looked at the man but he told me I could not go back to Nairobi as the woman in Nairobi had promised the job to someone else. It was final - I was coming back home.
A few days back in Kerongo felt like a year - time stretched for forever. I was used to working to occupy my time and there was nothing to do. I had been home for a week when I met Dotty. She was from Nairobi but her parents had sent her to school in the village stay with her grandfather, who was our neighbor and a church elder, because she was always getting in trouble in the city. Amazingly she didn’t seem to mind. In the short time she had been there she had made many friends and was the talk of the village. One evening I went to fetch water and found Dotty at the stream. We chatted all the way home and she told me she would be going back to Nairobi for the holidays the following day. I asked if she could get me a job and to my surprise she said her sister wanted a house-girl. We made plans to meet in the evening and talk.
After supper I sneaked out and went to Dotty’s place. She asked if I wanted to go with her to Nairobi. I agreed but told her I did not have any bus-fare. Dotty told me not to worry as she had a plan. At about nine-thirty Dotty said we had to go and see if some friends could help us get the bus fare. We sat quietly and waited for her grandfather to sleep. Then Dotty opened the window quietly so it would not make any noise and she jumped out. I jumped out after her. I had no other options of getting bus fare so I went along. It was very dark and I felt my fear of the dark surface. I was cold and felt like I was making a big mistake. God will take care of us, I kept thinking. We walked on the empty road for about two kilometers and came to a small house. Dotty knocked softly at the door and a boy let us in. There was another boy inside the house. As soon as we went in the boy who had opened the door took Dotty’s hand and started kissing her. I was afraid and my body started shivering. The other boy came and sat next to me and started touching me. Something was wrong. Dotty pulled me aside and told me to act cool and she will think of something. Then she left us alone. The boy started touching me again, putting his hand on my private parts. I told him to stop but he told me Dotty always brought them girls and they cooperated. He was reaching to remove his trousers and I was cursing myself for being an idiot when there was a knock on the door. It was their friends coming to see what was taking them so long as they were supposed to go fix the cassette player at a nearby funeral. It was the night before the burial and as was the custom the young people had come to celebrate the life of the departed by dancing to disco music and drums. The boys were famous for their antics at such ceremonies so they had to go and start the music. Our arrival had delayed them and people at the funeral were getting impatient. I could not express the relief I felt when the door closed behind them.
They locked us inside promising to come back and have sex with us and then we could have the money. I thought I was going to become pregnant and make a fool of myself. I was still deep in thought when Dotty smacked me at the back of my head and told me we had to break out of the window before the boys returned. She looked in their pockets and took the five hundred shillings that she found there. We climbed out of the window and started walking fast away from the house. It was about two in the morning and I had never walked outside at such a time. As we walked, Dotty told me how she brought girls to boys for money and these were the hours when the business was going on. The road was dark and scary and we did not even have a torch. I thanked God for taking care of us and asked him to take us home safely. We reached Dotty’s grandfather’s house and she climbed back in the window. I went home and put a few of my clothes in a bag without waking anybody and came right back. Dotty had put out some freezing water and we showered and dressed.
Dotty had given me one of her school uniforms to wear along with shoes and socks – traveling in uniform made her feel safe. It was a blue skirt, white shirt and navy blue sweater that brought back memories of school and I thought how now I should be in form two. It was just before five in the morning and very chilly. We walked through rocky short-cuts and avoided the main road so we could not meet anyone we knew. The railway station was eight kilometers away and it took us three hours to get there. We passed huge baboons and ran as they made loud chattering noises. It rained for a while and the path became slippery and difficult to walk on. Our bags dampened in the rain and became heavy. At some point we heard loud shouts and we hid in the bushes. A gang carrying stolen sacks of cassava and wielding sharp objects and singing war songs passed as we crouched in the bushes. We only came out when their shouts and singing had disappeared. We were hungry and exhaused. We had only five hundred shillings and our fare was one thousand shillings. I was increasingly worried as we approached the railway station.
As the rays of the sun appeared from the dark, I felt restore and knew we were close to the railway station. We started meeting people going to sell their milk and I was jealous of them. They looked happy and peaceful and sure of what life held in store for them. I was sixteen and going to the city filled with uncertainties. I hardly knew Dotty and I had serious doubts about her, yet I had no one else. I kept asking God to protect us. Finally we reached the railway station. The offices were still locked and an astonished caretaker came and asked what a bunch of school-girls were doing out this early. Dotty told them we’ve come to book tickets and he told us to come at eight-thirty when the offices were open. Dotty turned to me and assured me everything would work out. I just shrugged my shoulders. I wanted it to be over soon.
Dotty pointed to a nearby sugar cane factory and said we should go ask for some cane. When I asked the men on the loading docks for some sugar cane, one looked at me and said there was nothing for free in this world. The owner of the truck heard us asking and he came out. I was hoping he would notice how hungry and devastated we looked.
“What are you school girls doing here at this time?” he asked.
“We’ve come to book a train for Nairobi”, I said.
“So the train is here at the factory?”
“No, Sir. We have been walking for so long and that the station isn’t open. So we decided to come and ask for your cane because we are hungry. ”
When all this was happening Dotty had moved a bit far.
“Call your friend!” he ordered. I went called her and we stood infront of him. “Would you have sex for sugarcane?” he asked. We both moved back and started walking away. His face changed and he started following us. I started running and heard Dotty’s footsteps close behind me. Then the man stopped and shouted, “You stupid prostitute school-girls. If I ever catch you again I will rape and beat you up. Do you hear?”
We were far by this time but it really shook my heart. We couldn’t take it anymore. With a few shillings of our fare, Dotty bought two cups of tea and two mandazis I drank the hot tea like it was water. The madazi was really nothing but at least I felt much better. Then I started worrying about the recovering the money we had used for the tea. It was still morning and the day was dragging. It was market day and there were many people in Luanda town. On market days people came from Kerongo to buy fish, so we were careful not to be seen. The train was to leave at two pm for Kisumu, where the six pm train for Nairobi would be waiting.
Finally we had hooting from afar. The train was coming. People started lining up at the station. We lined up and Dotty bought my ticket to Kisumu, hers to Nairobi. She assured me that she would find me fare to Nairobi. There were many people and they pushed in line. The train stopped and its doors opened. We had to push so we could enter and get space in the train. Some people entered through the windows so they could get a seat. We finally entered the crowded train. People were sitting on the floor and I sat with them as the seats were all taken. The train smelled and breathing the air was like inhaling poison. I almost puked. Dotty took train whenever she went to and from Nairobi and she looked a lot more comfortable. We settled and the train started to move.
Dotty disappeared for a few minutes and when I looked for her I saw her talking to a policeman. I thought she had done something wrong. Whenever I saw a cop I got chills. Once I was told how police beat people and torture even shoot, and no one can prevent them. So I came to hate them. I kept my distance but continued watching Dotty. When she came back to where I was sitting I asked her what was that all about. She told me that she had made up a story that my parents and hers were best friends and we schooled at the same school and that my parents delayed to send my fare and school had closed, and she couldn’t have left me, so we had to seek assistance. She told me I had to memorize the story. I hated lying but in this case I had to. I had to repeat the story to anyone who asked me especially the train attendant and the police. I suddenly wished I could go home. I knew my family would be worried and I missed them. From the train windows I could see home fading in the distance as we got further away and tears fell freely from my eyes.
We reached Kisumu station and came out of the train. We were hungry again, but this time I was much more worried than hungry. Dotty bought chips from the fare money and I asked her if she was crazy. I asked what would happen if her plan didn’t succeed. She to me not to worry and asked me to accompany her to her policeman boyfriend’s place who worked at the Kisumu railway station and lived just behind it. I remembered how earlier she took me to her village boyfriend and tried to tell hell to go while I waited and took care of our bags. She insisted I accompany her since she was doing it for me. I had no choice but to go. Fortunately the officer was on duty and could not be found. The train was coming in a hour and we had not made any progress. We returned to the booking office and Dotty tried to explain the situation. I was called aside and questioned and answered exactly as Dotty had told me to. The officer and people involved in our case kept on pushing us aside and calling someone other official to come and listen to our case. After which we would be asked to explain all over again. It was getting late and the train was going to depart any time now. The entry doors were opened for passengers to get in and the first whistle blew and then the second. Just before the third, we were told to follow a policewoman who was going to accompany us to Nairobi. Because the engine was started and the train was about to move, the policewoman told us to enter and discuss our problem later. As I tried to find some space to sit and put our luggage, Dotty was busy moving from one coach to another. I didn’t understand why coz we had a lady police to go our case. The police asked me where my friend was, I didn’t know what to tell her so I hid my face. Finally Dotty came and settled next to me. Before long the tickets were being checked. It was our turn and Dotty showed hers but I had no ticket to show. I told the conductor that there was a policewoman with us who knew our case but we could not find her.
We were moved to another coach for interrogation and I started crying while Dotty tried to explain over and over. By some miracle they believed us and we were given a private room with a double decker bed and keys to lock ourselves in. For a moment I forgot that we were in the train, it was like being in a house. There was one big fat police who kept on checking on us and I thought he was very kind. He brought us some rice and beans to eat then told me I looked tired and I should rest. I remember thinking that not all policemen were bad. After supper I was cheerful and spoke with Dotty for a while then fell asleep. I don’t know how long I had been sleeping when I heard the bed shaking. I was in the top bed and it continued for a long while. Suddenly there was silence and the shaking stopped. I heard the sound of a zip and the officer’s voice saying he would come back after an hour. The door opened and he told Dotty to lock up. I didn’t say a word even though I was wide awake. After an hour the police officer came back and they had sex again. I was scared he might wake me and rape me so I lay still and crossed my fingers till he left.
Just before dawn, Dotty woke me up and so I could look outside the window at the city. At first I couldn’t see much but as it became light I saw many small mud houses and I wondered how this could be Nairobi. I just shrugged it off and soon we pulled into the train station.
“Try and make as many friends as you can,” Dotty said.
“Okay. “ I answered. Our conversation was interrupted by the policeman opening the door.
“Have you girls had a good sleep?” he asked in a friendly voice.
“Yes. Thank you very much sir, may God bless you.” I replied.
“Well then, here is some fifty shillings for you to buy mandazi and for fare from town,” he said handing money to Dotty.
“Thank you sir,” I said smiling.
“Here is also the ticket for the young girl to show at the gate,” he said, giving Dotty the ticket.
“Thanks,” I said.
“When in Nairobi, visit me at this place” he took a paper and scribbled scribbles and gave it to Dotty. He bade us farewell and left the coach.