Thursday, May 25, 2017

TEENS WANT WHAT?! WHAT TEENS WANT!?

(16 yr old me in the middle) These new millennium teens were pretty clueless!
Teens want condoms y’all.

It’s a month now, but that headline on a national newspaper one sunny day in April 2017 took me by surprise, then took me way back.

A queue has formed at the small, well - stocked tuck shop somewhere in Kenya’s Rift Valley where the ghastly winds live and wheat grows gracefully. Albeit, Nairobians like me can’t get used to the windy days.

The tuck shop is at the student centre which is the go-to place for all things ‘unga’, this is the real bundus yet home for the Margaret Thatcher Library - Moi University’s finest. I’m patiently waiting in line to buy some biscuits and chewing gum, which will be my lunch on a day where I have classes back to back till 5pm. If the gods grant me my wish, the lecturer at 3pm will bounce and I will skip the rest of the lectures. I have a heap of laundry waiting for me, all my cool second hand clothes infact. These past few days the dress-code memo is 'cool'. There’s no mama dobi this side of the woods and winds, so I have to personally hand-wash.

I have a stalker.

It’s those nice stalkers who see you on the university highway and call you to say ‘hi’ and comment that they love today’s multicoloured outfit. My default action would be to look around for mystery man with trepidation as he lurks behind the trees like a phantom. But for a good reason that’s not the case.

So on that specific day, my seven best jeans and seven best tops needed a wash, a girl got to look lovely. Stalker, admirer, love of my life, ten years later, Phantom man what’s the deal? I’m still holding the Olympics torch for you.

I digress, back to the tuck shop, where I’m buying my lunch - biscuits and chewing gum. Curiosity gets the better of me as I wait on the work-study student shopkeeper who’s giving out change in slowmo. There’s this sticker posted on the shop window which I don’t decipher and that’s absurd, an advert that is supposed to lure me in. “P2 sold here” I wrack my brain every time I see it, but the minute I’m at the cyber, I have so much spam email to sift through that the last thing on my mind is to google P2.

Without consulting my brain my mouth asks the question to no one in specific.  “What’s this P2”? Everyone in line bursts out at my presumed 21 year old ignorance.

Just so we are clear, I’m a little past the Taylor Swift and Beiber generation now. In my heyday, airtime and bundles were as foreign as taking selfies. I had a 3210 Nokia phone which was a hand me down, what would I do with a phone referred to as the selfie expert. 

After spurring a bout of laughter I’m embarrassed as I head out to class. The 3pm lecture bounces (yippee!) I go down to the student centre cyber, on google I educate myself on P2 et al. Fighting suffocation in the loosely ventilated cyber (I once fainted in there) I wonder why the guys at the tuck shop can’t call a pill a pill, simplicity! “Morning after pills sold here”. The economies of space are not well applied but I bet you they would make a heck-lot of sales because there was a heck-lot of sex happening behind hostel curtains.

Joining university for me was a mere miracle. So I decided to milk it for all it’s worth. Don’t get it twisted, I wasn’t behind any curtains. The first few months of joining university I was in almost seven clubs. One of my very vivid memories was starring in a French play in LT3 “Bed full of foreigners". It had this ratchet scene where I’m caught with a married man and need to jump out of bed and go hide on the balcony. The juice of it was supposed to be in the type of lingerie I wore on stage.

The minute I read the script, that was the one part I highlighted in green and told the director “heck to the no”, no audience could pay me enough for that kind of show. He threatened to look for another actress and I threatened to leave. On second thought, he approved for me to wear a long night thingy which was neither lacy nor racy.

The play is well on its way, the director offers me commission for any tickets sales a few days before. Marketing 101, that first semester in uni I was rocking some fancy mahogany reddish naturalista dreadlocks. Me and the dreds rock up at his hostel to pick the tickets for sale. I decide to roam around the 4th year’s hostel door to door like a missionary with my tickets. I’m absolutely oblivious to the ‘gold rush’ where first year girls are up for grabs for fourth year guys. Albeit, I single handedly fill up the first front rows of the hall for the duration of the play.  In the course of selling tickets and being on stage as “Helga” I get suitors. Unfortunately, I’ve already perfected the art of exiting stage left. This “Gold” is special.

Round that time, I’m craving for more fun filled action. I join ICL (I Choose Life) and its one of the funkiest clubs I was part of. On orientation day I win a dancing competition and under my seat there is a  surprise sticker which brings with it a month’s worth of shopping. Those biscuits and gallons of juice go a long way in entertaining and making new friends. 

So at ICL, we are selling the A,B,Cs before the TV show Shuga was even a concept on paper. Abstain, Be Faithful and use Condoms. In a little while my tenacity in spreading the ABC gospel has me bumped  from trainee to peer educator and assigned to a group of funky college mates called “IZMOTO” the gang is on abstaining fire. As a facilitator back then, I carried condoms in my college bag for when I needed to facilitate (we choose the A remember). In October we’d wear red and do cancer awareness and campaigns around campus.

Convincing peers to go for tests at the VCT centre came with the job and was the proverbial taking a mule to the river. I went in there often, since once someone was convinced to go check their status, I had to be a good example and agree for my finger to be pricked first before any blood was drawn from my willing participants.

The one thing we didn’t have to carry were wooden dildos for special demonstration of condom use- that one stayed in the I Choose Life (ICL) office. Picture this, I’m looking for lip balm during my Comparative Politics class and the damn thing falls and rolls all the way to the lecturer’s feet. He lifts it up, the entire class is in ripples, then he asks_________jaza pengo hapo.

So the ABC of this story is that at 21 I had no idea what P2 was and at 22 I was a guru in matters sex education teaching college guys how to put on condoms et al.

So excuse me for asking what a fifteen year old wants a condom for... for what? For who? For when? For where?

They all need to take a chill pill no pun intended. At 22, maybe I was a little bit slow than most but these teens need to get to 20 before they make such audacious demands.

At 15, they need to be figuring out physics, chemistry, biology and hesabu which in high school is a killer and the biggest threat to attaining higher education. They need to be mapping out how they are going to work fancy jobs at 20 as social media managers and take cruises around Indian Ocean and holidays in Seychelles and the Maldives.

With the internet, social media, project X and stupid games like BWC it’s going be hard. Parents, what to do? crowd those kids with so much responsibility? – read education, chores and more chores. Ban the TV and phone if you have to. Irresponsible behavior is a red zone at 15. Corporal punishment is banned but home thwaking is still admissible. Well, that’s the easy route.

The hard and more necessary action plan is to crowd the social media, mainstream media with so much content that directly and candidly addresses all matters sex. Also,  teach the damn sex lessons in schools - properly, make them exciting and interactive. If teachers are finding a little bit too touch hire consultants. Trainers at ICL need to approve that part of the curriculum!

Again I ask, Condoms for what?


©JoanKabugu
  



Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mama Mwihaki

It's 17 years since I saw her beautiful smile...I forget if people called her Mama Mwihaki or Mama Joan, but that's fine. One thing that I can't forget is how she made me feel. She made me feel like a champ, that the world was my personal perfect oyster and the possibilities were limitless. She taught me to be proactive, to become the woman I want to be.

It reminds me of a piece by one of my favourite columnists Carol Mandi, in her "That's Life" column. A few years back she wrote "One is not born a woman, one becomes". Today, I think about this and it takes me back to another era, where we did not have millennials, Uber, Instagram, Iphones or selfies.

An era where a woman with the "becoming a woman" definition lived and socialites were yet to be born. Mama Mwihaki, my dear mummy lived in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, she did not let it spoil her game she was classier than your favourite co-host.

She went the whole nine yards; came to Nairobi a little naive, landed a job as a civil servant, fell in love in her 20s with a guy who wore fancy silk socks, said YES,  started a family, balanced the marriage-career equation perfectly wearing six inch heels and because she was a "flower" got chauffeured by hubster to work daily,  had two beautiful children (but do I say) and helped build the first local catholic church in Zimmerman Estate. When I think about it, hers was a life well lived. When she went to be with the Lord, her #BucketList goals must have been near completion.I fade in comparison to her. I'm still at a mere 30 or 40%.

She forced me to learn how to make Ugali, and the first failed attempts were far too many to count. The kitchen department was not my strong suit. I would always add too much salt to meals, overcook the veggies, imperfect chapati dough hence chapatis the likes of unleavened bread. Things are much better now, we have step by step cooking shows online and when I'm up to it I can cook up a storm.

If she were around, here is what she'd say about several things.

Moving out.

"My daughter, you don't have to pay millions in rent, this will always be your home" I'd still be living in my mum's house, and as a result I'd have bought land near Lake Naivasha and a built a holiday cottage to boot. I'd also be driving a Mini Copper by the time I stepped out.

Dating.

"Daughter dear...think it's time I stepped in and helped you out" Being single would have been a no-no and she'd have hooked me up with her friend's son and pushed for marriage immediately. Arranged marriages are a saviour.

Being a filmmaker.

"Mami, how much do you need for that short film...100k...okay, I'll sort you out" She would be okay with it yes, but she'd insist I be a TV executive and work at looking for the money to get films and good TV made and give back to the industry. She would be the go-to girl for fancy chic suits from Far East for me to attend film markets around the world.

Education

"Mwihaki, it's just two more years...you'll thank me later" She would have pushed for me to do a MBA straight after my undergraduate to increase my chances in the job market and increase my negotiating power , she would have given me  a loan to that effect.

Moving in

"Call me old school but the only way you are leaving this house is with a ring on that finger" Never ever.

 ***

On that note, Happy Mothers Day!Take your mother out this weekend. Surprise her with flowers maybe. Call her up and love on her. Shout out to Mama Zambezi, Mama Leslie, Mama Chebet, Mama Wambo, Mama Mwende, Mama Kendi, Mama Theuri, Mama Becky, Mama Njeri....great mothers these are!

©JoanKabugu




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

TROUBLE!

I’m not looking for trouble but he’s staring. I ignore him as I try to eat my fruit in peace. It’s been a long day and my Skype call is delayed, I’m supposed to be half across the continent by now yet things seem to be falling apart. Agitated, I accidentally bite my tongue taking a bite of the remaining pineapples. Damn boy! He’s still staring. I wink at him and flash him a king size smile. I can tell that I’ve taken him by surprise.

His date is animatedly trying to explain something to him, he is zoned out, the girlfie might as well be speaking mandarin. I wink again and mouth the words “What?” I don’t feel guilty; the date is probably a cousin not a girlfie. Then in the twinkle of an eye we are caught.

Girlfie/Cousin has followed his gaze and it’s led her to me.

Phewks! Kumbe, a well endowed woman passed across blocking her view of me and she gets it twisted and thinks  that her man was distracted by the dd-cup dashboard. Effective immediately she’s throwing a tantrum and stands in a huff, heads off to the bathroom in fiery fury matching her red heels.

I watch from the side of my eye, No! I don’t want trouble on a Tuesday, from the look of things Girlfie/Cousin seems like those hot blooded chicks who would storm my table and splash me with the scalding hot tea on my table and be like ”Chick - pleeeeaaaase...”. She walks back from the ladies the scowl still in place, now at the waitress who is waiting on her man with smiles and giggles.

Girlfie/Cousin sits hands crossed and looking pissed, her man is on phone. I can sense that he’s looking my way once the call is done, willing me to look up. I don’t. Eyes on my keyboard as I finish a long email asking what happened with the Skype call and my trip and a whole load of things. Soon enough the waitress is at my side.

Trouble! I keep my head down.  Waitress has a note for me. I look up his way and he sends me a delightful smile. Looking at him I slip the note into my book - 'Infidel' next to my laptop, he seems disappointed. I shrug and smile.

I get ready to leave. My clove tea and fruit are paid for by ‘the’ a stranger and who I'm I to complain. As I stuff things into my multi-purpose handbag I can feel alluring eyes. I look up and he winks. I shake my head, men!

The minute I get home the Skype guys call me directly from Bots, my itinerary is confirmed, my assignment in Buchanaland is fully funded and my flight leaves in an hour. I get my already packed suitcase replace the biography with three Le Carre thrillers to keep me company. The one month expedition is on.

***

It’s a rainy gray evening, my bestie Sal wants to ransack my book shelf. After Buchanaland, It’s been a great couple of months and I’ve bought seven new books.  She picks three of them and hugs them. Then something falls out. A bookmark? No. A funky business card with something scribbled on it.

Sal reads it out loud. “Hello Hot legs….call me…” now Sal is all up in my business and I narrate of how the note ended up in the book. “Call him”. I try to explain that he’s a shamelessly flirty stranger who could most likely be a serial killer but Sal has already dialed his number and daring me to talk to him.

Phone on my ear, I try to remember his voice, nothing register. “Hello …. Jim here, Who is this? ”opulent, entitled, official tone.

“Wrong number” I whisper then hang up. The last guy I dated had the ego the size of a whale. From the sound of Jim’s voice, he might be in the same league. That coupled up with the circumstances surrounding our meeting or none thereof.

Sal is disappointed and leaves with four of my books and my umbrella.

I then get a text.

“Ms. Hot legs”.

“How did you know?”

“Whatsapp”

There’s a long pause where I’m convincing myself that I don’t need to continue the conversation.

“Can I call you” He asks.

As I’m still thinking, he goes right ahead and calls. For some weird reason I’m smiling.


Trouble!




©JoanKabugu

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Youth Safari - BTS

Girls from Kapsoi Primary School - Baringo
My heydays in primary school are memorable for the numerous trips we took around Nairobi, Naivasha, Nakuru, Great Rift Valley et al, we were  on a search for wildlife and picturesque Kenyan spots.

Then, the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya and local schools collaborated to ensure that we appreciated the great outdoors. On the eve of the trips I would be wide awake, parents would wake up at the break of dawn to get us ready – missing the bus was not an option.

School fees, embroidery fees, cooking lessons fees (when 844 was 844) …. were not as important as school trip fees. Missing the school trip was enough to send any child to early depression. Personally, I would pout for a week and go on hunger strike.  It’s over a decade since I was in primary school. I remember vividly going to snake park and discovering that I had ophidiophobia.  I was never going to watch Anaconda or any other movie with slithering reptiles at the cinema. You should see me trying to watch such movies at home, it’s like I’ve been left in a jungle full of reptiles – exit stage left.

 

The Nairobi National Park was and still is an all time favourite (maybe I should have my wedding there (insert smiley) ). Seeing the different species gave me appreciation for my city, bet you it’s the only capital in the world with a national park. It’s no surprise that my first ever internship as a sociology student was at KWS and involved going for game drives to resolve animal wildlife conflict. An interesting experience was when a cheetah was out in Kitengela and we set up a trap to have it returned to the park before local residents were fed up and took action into their hands. The did not allow me to be part of the nightly stake out though.

I digress, back to my school days. I remember one time I woke up with a fever on the d-day of a trip. We were heading down for a cruise around the Great Rift Valley,  the plan was go to Lk. Naivasha, Hell’s gate and later to Elementaita to see the lesser flamingos. I could not be dissuaded to miss the trip. By the time we got to Naivasha the fever disappeared.

All these trips were effectively followed by long descriptive English composition assignments. I aced them every time.

Shout out to Roysambu Primary! It was a simple public school, which in my day had a spot in the top 50 schools countrywide and got a mention in the local papers post KCPE exams…. I got an A in math for my nationals. I treasure that A. It’s the only one I've got in Math since.

Fast forward.

Sometime in 2016 me and the gang; Becky, Mercy, Davi, Andrew, Mr. Komen and kids from Kapsoi Primary went out for an expedition in Baringo. Nothing like a proper adventure with a filming crew – Baringo is a day’s drive from Nairobi, you sleep – wake up – you sleep – wake up….  


We met kids from Kapsoi primary in Baringo county and the idea was to give them an experience such as the one I had back at Roysambu Primary.  The master plan was do a round trip to Lk.Baringo, Lk.Bogoria, Hotsprings and later to Rimoi National Park.

We took a boat ride to go discover some Rothschild giraffes in the wild. This involved long treks in a semi forest with the scorching sun overhead.  My girl Mercy is petite and presumably very fit, she was dying of fatigue. 

            “My word! Joan! you should have warned me it was going to be these intense…” 

Davi put on a brave face as he got us great shots despite the rough terrain. Becky, on the other hand was acting easy but later I discovered she was out of breathe, cleaver one this one, she had her funky hat on and the sun was not giving her as much trouble.

I on the other hand went out to chase the elusive giraffes until my camera battery was out. It was a relief, I sat down on a hot stone ready to spend the rest of my life at Ruko conservancy.  Our E.P Andrew was the last man standing.
Action!

As for the kids, Komen concluded they needed more PE lessons, they were panting by the time we spotted the endangered species of giraffes. Mission accomplished, they could not wait to get back on the boat for a breather.



The boatride

We had a great expedition with the kids from Kapsoi Primary and to catch the action tune in today Wednesday 8th March, 10pm on Kenya's NTV. You can also watch the show online on Kenyamoja.com. Below is the trailer...





Spread the word!

joankabugu © 2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lion Lights - An Invention by Richard Turere



Richard Turere loves his father's cattle, he calls them by name.

For the sake of peace and reducing animal - wildlife - human conflict, he invented Lion Lights to stop the lions from invading his father's cattle.

The amazing thing is he did this when he was only 11 years old. I saw his feature first on Ted Talks, where he eloquently and passionately shared about his invention in Califonia.

What were you up to at 11?

His invention has now been adopted by other Maasai homesteads and Turere has trained other young boys on setting up Lion Lights.

Sometime last year, I wrote a pitch for Mofilm in line with World Children's day powered by Chevy. I went looking for Richard who was now 16 years and still looks after his father's cows when he is home from school.



This young Maasai man is an innovator and a forward thinker. He want to be an aircraft engineer and during the shoot he was busy learning the mechanics at Wilson Airport. During the shoot Richard's family was so gracious and gave us a true Maasai welcome.

This piece took 3rd place in the Mofilm competition.Big thank you to my crew Becky Muikia, David Kamau and Mercy Adundo.




Wednesday, February 1, 2017

7 Billion People - Choose 1


1920 is the year Karen Blixen's husband requested for a divorce, things used to be civil then.

But I digress, that's not the story for today.....

Across the ridge, men are excited, already making merry. Pots of over-fermented brew and mursik are being brought out. Women are adorned in traditional jewelry practicing dances and singing in bad exaggerated pitch. The sisal skirts are being sown on the go. Nothing like a good party, out in the Nandi hills it's a small world.

'Chebet' said in staccato in proper Kalenjin dialect - one and only daughter of the chieftain, a special bean in the pod - she has been found. A few full moons ago the elders met Chebet's father with good news - a Nandi  hunter had spotted his huntress.

Dusk is approaching fast. The golden sun dips in the plains. Chebet is being oiled, dressed and pampered, like the Kipsigis queen she is, once done, they carry her, up high in celebratory spirit. She is adorned in African necklaces, anklets and bracelets.

Albeit, she's underwhelmed for more reasons than one. She can't figure out if it's the circumstances surrounding this betrothal or the fact that she loves staying with her irritable parents or the fact that marriage is not for girls like her, not now at least. As they carry her,  she focuses on the starry sky and tries to think happy thoughts of grandchildren and grandparents making merry.

Chebet's clan, her uncle leading the troupe trek for kilometres following the moon. They are singing as they cross the streams not scared of the crocodiles that might lurk in the warm waters. A feast of food and drink awaits, and on arrival they are received like royalty, greeted with roast bush meat, yams and soup.

They get carried away catching up and reuniting with relatives and neighbors, a chance for long awaited juicy gossip. They talk about little and nothing as they get inebriated. Chebet is done with her plate and goes looking for her aunt whom she finds laughing indiscreetly with an older man. She pulls her aside.

She looks around, they are men socializing, tall men, short men, light men, some appear charming others boring. A few steal glances at Chebet and her young aunt. Up to this point, so deep into the night and celebrations at their peak,  Chebet doesn't know her suitor.

The joy of unions in their century.

"Auntie, which one is my husband" Chebet's aunt looks straight ahead and with a folded mouth gesture indicates to the adonis. Chebet slowly follows auntie's gaze. Her face falls and in the merest of whispers voices her disappointment. "He's hedious" her aunt pinches her playfully "He's a hunter -love grows".

He's nothing like Chebet had imagined for a chief's daughter. Mr. Man notices her watching him and gives her a crooked smile, then walks towards her. As he comes closer, Chebet's auntie exits stage right. He starts to introduce himself, Chebet is hardly listening, she's just thinking 'He smells like sheep'.

In 1920, out of the estimated 2 Million they choose one for you, In 2017, it's a case of advanced algebra sorting through the stockpile of 7 billion to find each other.

Do we need to bring back the 1920s?



JoanKabugu©2017

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Love brewed in a 1970 pot



A lamp light shines.

It’s a cold night somewhere in Limuru, fog gathering together as if it has sinister motives. We are all round a fire waiting for a hot meal - living in a small village in Limuru has it’s perks. Auntie is cooking yam, banana, potatoes, cabbage and traditional bitter vegetables all mixed in one pot. Mumbi her eldest daughter and my cousin is restless, she
eats only a portion of her food, keeps the rest for breakfast. The fire of young love brews in her soul.

“Kafura – the cows need water, I’ll help you” Mumbi makes me finish my food in a hurry. Before I finish the last yam she pulls me to the cowshed – it’s our little hide out most evenings before we sleep, where we share some girl talk. We fill the giant saucepan with water and leaves it for the cows. It’s Friday night and she’s got some action lined up.

"You are so boring, come on - let's go" 

“How do we get there again? It’s already so dark?’ the darkness taunts me. Ever since I was mummy’s little munchkin I always had a big issues why day had to end inviting the night.

Mumbi’s plan is to drag me out as a third wheel on her date. Henry – pronounced Henery  (by the owner of the name) has been winking at her when we go to sell tea at the factory. The thirsty clerk has garnered up the courage to make a move and wants to buy us drinks. I’m inclined to join in but the cold coupled up with the dark night overrules the two drinks he’s offering.

“So, how will we know your clerk is here”? I’m still stalling and undecided about going out. 

“He's not my clerk...we have a plan” comes a witty comeback. Keep our miniature radio on, once the 9, O Clock news come on, Henery will be in the vicinity.

Our Kikuyu style hut is smack in the middle of nowhere. Between our house and the next one, lies countless hectares of tea and coffee plantations. 

Mumbi goes on to entice me that the date is happening at this viewpoint where the night sky is supposed to be breathtaking. “The tea centre is five kilometers away…we have to pass through the forest, they say the hyenas come out at night….”

The drinks could be magic to our confidence when coming back but with the shivering cold, we’d be sobered by the fog. I bail on Mumbi with no apologies, I’d rather hug my blankets for the night. When the clock chimes 9, she adds a dab of milking jelly to her lips and is ready to leave.

Auntie is a heavy sleeper, out like a log. I help Mumbi sneek out through the thorny Kayaba fence. Good thing I stay behind, otherwise who would help the both of us get out. I linger in the now open space of the fence and peep. Someone lights a cigarette. Oh! Behold the next signal. What if someone discovers that cigarette signal one day and Mumbi is kidnapped by a psycho night runner who steels chicken in the night.

I’m in la-la land when she comes back in the wee hours. I’ve left the door open, she wakes me up when she gets into the shared bed disturbing the warm equilibrium. She settles in forcing me to release the blankets I’m hugging.

I want to hear how it all went, told with the Mumbi storytelling swag full of hyperboles.

“Kafura…..”  she calls , I respond and she starts with excitement…only for me to fall back to sleep.

Ps. That’s the 70s kinda love. All ye whatsapp lovebirds better put in some effort. *Insert peace sign*




JoanKabugu©2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Bus Ride



Picture credit - pixarbay.com
Sun rays burn her eyes, she can’t look away, the orange and red embers painting the sky. The roads are clear at 6;45am.

While she was away, they finished an eight lane highway. Looking out the bus, she swoons over everything.

There’s a man driving a big car – she doesn’t know it’s an Audi Q7 – her assignment was limited to Toyotas, Nissans and Mercedes, he is on phone without his phone as he swerves into their lane then speeds off. The Q7 is replaced by a rundown matatu, an artsy-type-chocked-by-creativity man is asleep by the window. Light, rugged, long neck with a spider tattoo peeping, surprisingly neat shoulder length dreadlocks and a dimple. He is dreaming in comedy and his sleepy smile draws her in.

She stares, reminded of Maurice! They had married young, their love couldn’t wait to meet parents or pastors. On her middle finger - there’s a dark mark, one that she alone sees. She wore his cheap ring for ten years – with confidence as if it were the real gem. Not once did she remove it; Maurice was a faithful man, a keeper.

The bus is stuffy; a mixture of sweat, body odor and bad breathe. She can no longer afford fresh air; the steel windows have been soldered shut.

She wears a faded orange cap, she landed one at the bottom of the pile – it covers her bald head, after three months she had to cut off the lice infested hair. Her outfit a faded shade of white with blue stripes, it’s cleaner than most days.

She’s been behaving well, her gangsta vibes fading, everyone has been nodding in approval, she’s no longer an impending threat and works with the chaplain on Sundays and sometimes gives the liturgy readings. She has to cover up the vine tatoo running across her back to her arms.

The traffic becomes thicker closer to Nairobi CBD. At Ngara flyover, she waits for the scene to change, her mind drifts to her now seven year old son. She winces at the fact that she will never see him again.

There’s an accident at the flyover, an impatient man decided to cross the eight lane road on foot, he got dismembered. It’s a blood bath, one half of his body on the curb and his head stuck underneath a saloon car.

In the thick traffic, she notices the way the proper men and women in passenger buses are looking at their bus, it’s fortified with police at the back, front and sides. Three months back a similar truck carrying 12 was hit from the back in an ambush and the hinges broke loose.

That jail break was in the dailies for days, pictures of wanted men occupying spaces for advertisements. Six months later, still missing, still wanted, gone without a trace. She now wonders if presented with that opportunity, would she run?

No one visits, no one calls, no one cares. As they seep out of the traffic and leaves the scene of the accident, she makes eye contact with one of the officers on site. He stares, it’s the very arresting officer from five years ago, she looks away.

Still, the memories come rushing in. She is high as a kite; the weed in her system has kicked in. Four weeks since she said yes. Four weeks since she joined the night shift. Four weeks since she went back to the life she had sworn never to touch. It all starts when she finds Topaz – her ex, the ghetto kingpin. She asks to manage his siphoned fuel establishment but instead gets an alternative assignment “Babe - ata ka we ni beshte, lazima uanze chini, fanya squadi ya museum hill month moja alafu tuongee”.  

Its dusk when she sees the Mercedes, she pretends to cross the road, swinging, in her shorter than short mini when the traffic snarls up. The windows are slightly down on the Mercedes, a young man is driving, a middle class gent with shades office-type-liberal-choked-by-a-tie. She forces the door open, the young man is alert and is onto her. He puts up a fight and she has now drawn attention to herself. Instead of running before attracting attention, she decides on a second move, the pistol. Her intellect switch goes off, today is not her lucky day.

She lingers at the passenger door, but the young man is now on the offense full gear – he eyes her squarely as if inviting her for a duel. She lingers smelling his cologne, is it a familiar scent? Maurice, a moment of recollection, what is she doing? She should run for it. Next thing, shots are being fired her way, she runs but never gets very far, she’s hit, she lays prostrate on the ground. She’s wailing as a rugu clobbers her, blood oozing from her glazed leg. She’s sore, the officer cuffs her and drags her by the skirt on foot all the way to Central Police shouting “…shenzi type….”

JoanKabugu©2016

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ride or Die


pic coutesy of ebay.com
“Women are their worst enemies”
How wrong can one statement be? 

I remember the first time I met Martha. It was at our local church,  a temporary structure where we had only a tent over our heads. After four harambees in two years we had bought a plot where like David we felt convicted to build a church. She was new. I noticed it from the way she looked at the congregants during offering time as they came to the front to drop something in the offering basket. 

It was clear that her previous church had the offering basket go round instead. When it was her turn she walked meekly to the front, holding her offering tightly, feeling a dozen strange eyes on her.

I was the oldest member of the choir, a golden girl. From my vantage point at the altar where we sat I saw past her colourful faded tie and dye kitenge and through her soul, I saw the pain, the anger and the hopelessness. Our eyes met and I afforded her a smile. She stared back blankly then looked away. We sang the last song of the day "Kanisa itajengwa na kina nani, iyoooooo...." and the priest dismissed us and said the final prayer. I proceeded to join the women’s group. My fellow choir members were millennials and too young for me to relate with, the only reason they let me sing was because I was as stubborn as a donkey carrying overloaded with buckets of water. The priest was also my younger brother and he had a soft spot for sister dearest. I was going to sing for my Jesus until I was bent and blue.

Maria! someone was calling me; I was however focused on something else. I saw her lingering at the bathroom, I figured she was waiting for the little girl in a ponytail who sat next to her earlier. I approached her and put my best smile forward. “Hallo, you must be new” ?, she nodded her head and just then her daughter came out. She couldn’t have been a day over seven. “Yes, we run away from Elbergon last month because of the clashes, they killed my husband”.

For someone who was considered a chatterbox, I was lost for words. We walked together to the church gate, she held her daughter by the hand as I followed closely behind. I made funny faces that made her daughter smile, she also had those precious double dimples.  At the gate, I stopped; I had a dozen meetings to attend to – I was your typical Mama Wa Kanisa “I’m Martha by the way or Mama Hanna – this is Hanna”  she pointed at her girl. I finally recovered my voice  “I’m Maria, we are doing some church construction and renovations here in the evenings and on Saturday – you can come if you have time”.

And that is how we became friends. We meet at the church plot every evening to clear the bushes and dig the foundation where the church building would stand. She was a quiet woman, I liked her serene spirit,  I did much of the talking. Slowly she opened up and when I invited her for my son’s 10th birthday she brought him a secondhand one-carriage train for a toy.  It was mighty thoughtful, since only three other people brought gifts yet they ate all my pilau and insisted on carrying take-away cake.  The train turned out to be Jonah’s favourite toy, Martha became a favourite in our household. She was surviving on the little savings she was able to salvage from her husband’s account. She had been an ECD teacher in Elbergon, in the city though work was a little hard to come by.

Having been the pioneer Mama Mboga, I sold groceries to the entire estate, it was a fairly lucrative business. Once in a while when I went for a cup of tea at Martha's house I took groceries for the week. “Do you think I can also start selling groceries” ?  she asked one day. “Off course, it’s pretty easy, smile at the customers and sell fresh produce, we can be going to market in the mornings together ”. “I don’t want to steal your customers…” she said apologetically. “There’s enough customers to go round, plus a little competition is healthy”. And as simple as that I had a comrade with whom we went to Marikiti daily to pick the fresh bananas, capsicums, pineapples and Ovacados. In the market I saw the other side of her, she was good at haggling and en-route back to the estate she gave me scores of stories about the joys of living in the rift valley, growing sorghum, harvesting barley and her gentleman of a husband. 

When our kids did the national examinations, we spent hours in church together, holding hands, praying for them to succeed for their own sake. Then, God smiled at both of us and Jonah scored a solid A and Hanna a B. Jonah got a fully paid scholarship to a university in Singapore. As any good friend, I offered to set off a percentage of Hanna’s fees in a local university, my late husband had been a teacher and though he earned peanuts he left me a sizable pension and a plot of land where our house stood adjacent to the grocery kibanda. The house was nothing fancy but  it offered me a fresh start as a widow.

Present day.

Twenty long years had passed; we were now dons at Marikiti Market and were the first to get 
groceries and make deals for the week. 

One fine Sunday I stood outside the church we built, it was no longer a tent but a magnificent building that had taken three years and six harambees to finish, it was an old strong church, that we were all proud of. Martha was smiling broadly as she approached me at the end of mass. I knew why. 

Jonah had come to see me last night. He had brought two sets of shopping for me and Maria. After dinner, I knew he had to go, he worked through to Sundays. He lingered at the kitchen door as I washed the utensils. “So, what’s on your mind”?

He had been fidgety over dinner, the chapattis and beef stew were his favourite but he had eaten slowly and labored over the pepper in the Kachumbari. Something was really heavy on his mind and it scared me. Mothers did not know how to take bad news. 

“I’ve met my wife mum” he said in the softest of voices, then his face lit up and he smiled. I did not know how to react, she came over, I crossed to the kitchen door where he stood and hugged him. I had seen him struggle with women since he was 20, he had taken after his father’s good looks and was a handsome young man, the money he was earning made him more dapper, girls were lining up but none ever stayed long enough to get a “wife” reference.

“Mami, you know her...” he continues.  His veins were now fully popped out, he was extremely excited. “Jonah, you’ve dated over a dozen girls in the last two years, even if I wanted I could never recall a name”.

“It’s Hanna…”

“Martha’s Hanna!!!!???”

“Yes, we wanted to tell you when we were certain, I proposed to her and she said yes”

He was over the moon.

“I finally opened my inner eyes…”

“Aaaaawwww… our Hanna, she's always been like daughter”

“Well. Now, it’s official”

Standing outside the church a few feet from each other, we are overjoyed; we are forced to contain our happiness because the next service has already started.  When we get to each other, words fail is, we hug each other in a tight embrace. We are more than friends now, we are family.

“Harusi tunayo” Martha lets loose and shouts, she gives Maria a  hi-five. 

They are forever ride or die friends.

JoanKabugu©2016



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