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dad… Mzee Kithinji

 

Wake up! The firm, deep voice would roar as the hazy sun rose. “You are not a sultan to be asleep when the sun has risen’’.

This was our regular wake-up call which I nostalgically keep remember. Mzee, as we fondly refer to him today, then an alert and energetic middle-aged father, would scold us for oversleeping.

My father Kithinji Mutura was an early riser, and most days he would be up long before the sun had risen, even after spending half the night at a local tea collection centre.

The morning chill was nothing as he cut Napier grass and hefted the heavy load on his shoulder – tying it with ropes was too feminine for him.

Today, as a father too, I reflect on the lessons learnt and celebrate my old and now sickly father. He is a shadow of his former self but I will still sing his praises.

This is what I want to tell him today.

 

NEVER LAZY

Mzee, you abhorred laziness. You would milk, sell milk, gather fodder for animals and still join the rest of us in the tea bushes for harvesting when not engaged in your masonry work.

You told us about the time you were imprisoned by the colonialists for fighting for freedom, and there you learnt masonry. It shows that something good can come out of any trying moment one is undergoing. You taught us to never give up and to see the silver lining in every cloud. Dad, I salute you.

The callouses on your hands, almost 10 years after you stopped erecting buildings, are a testament of your hard work. You gladly undertook difficult, punishing work so you could provide for us. Not once did I see you ‘relax’ or just sit down during the day and do nothing.

Over and above, you managed to invest in several acres of land for your retirement and posterity. You are amazing.

I will never understand – and can never attempt to replicate – how you took care of and raised 10 plus of us. With no formal education or steady source of income, you managed to feed, educate and house us all.

You were passionate about education and you have seen several of your children graduate. And although a number of us failed to proceed beyond primary school, it wasn’t your fault – you were willing to sacrifice for us and never abandoned your duty.

Although we walked barefoot in our primary school years, although we lived in a mud-walled house with a corrugated iron sheet roof, we never slept hungry. Our tin oil lamps and, later, our lanterns never lacked paraffin – we saw, we read and here we are celebrating you. Mzee, you are in a class of your own.

HONEST AND CALM

You were honest when honesty was not the norm. You would always rather be cheated that cheat. You never ‘ate’ anyone’s coin and to date, I have never heard anyone accuse you of any wrongdoing or dishonest deed.

You were a model fundi who never stole his clients’ materials or overcharged them. Your quality works stand strong to date and most of them are as good as new. If only the thieves and tenderpreneurs of today had a dad like you…

Mzee, on reflection, you were and still are calm and collected. I can count the number of times I have heard you shout out. Despite the heat of the moment, despite the level of irritation and despite the cheekiness, you hardly raised your voice or a finger.

Mother would tell you not to let us grow horns or be cheeky but we knew you were our haven.

Mzee, today I’m surprised that lifestyle diseases caught up with you. I don’t understand how diabetes and blood pressure have managed to put you down. I know it was never about lifestyle choices.

Our choice food, githeri, was plain and simple; and it was always available, marinated with traditional vegetables.

I’m sure the nyama choma you ate in your whole life is equivalent of what I eat every month. The number of kilometres you have walked is the equivalent of what the 10 of us have walked in our lifetime. Yet these diseases are here.

Mzee, you walked with us when we were young. You were there during all the moments that mattered. When we were undergoing the rites of passage, you never lectured me on how to be a man, you simply set an example – of courage, of compassion, honesty and providing for one’s family. You never blew your horn, but everybody recognised and appreciated you for who you are.

Mzee Evans Kithinji Mutura, you are our superstar.

Mzee Evans Kithinji Mutura. PHOTO | COURTESY

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This marriage business

I have been around this  marriage institution for a while.. I’ve survived for a decade in it and learnt a few things which I would like to share.

I’ve come to learn that marriage is as communal as it is private. There are some Kenyans who have made it their life goal to pair people.

You will be shocked (or not ) by the suggestions, innuendos and outright match-making by people in some social circles. Beware, my friend. Be yourself and make a deliberate choice.

If they choose for you, they will want to run your marriage. Be wary, confident and consult mainly your heart. Many marriages have failed because of overcrowding.

Although I concede that I need some need help in that department, it’s more often than not a poisoned chalice.

NOT A RACE

Secondly, marriage is not a race to be won nor is it a competition.

Take it at your pace. It’s not a catwalk or a relay. It’s also not a marathon. You are not competing with your age-mates to see who will land the village belle.

So what if you are unmarried at 32?

Don’t live to outsmart your partner. You are not competing but complementing each other. Don’t be a nag but don’t be mat. Determine what you want. Go for it but within the certain constraints of the good institution.

It’s an unfortunate truth that women carry the burden of making a marriage successful. Biological, cultural and social factors dictate this.  So as the good book says, do not be deceived. You will manage, direct, dictate and often be blamed for the good, the ugly and everything else in between. So have a big heart, firm you shoulders and move on!

In this sexualized and sensualised world, bedroom matters are somewhat an anti-climax. Boredom often sets in. In case of problems, you know we African men never share. Or say die. Or seek help.

But we find our own rhythm, set the pace and experiment. But please be mindful of each other’s needs. This is a small sentence which merits be repeating and emphasising. Be mindful of your partner’s needs.

I have also learnt that a good number of people are nursing injuries and pain which could have been avoided if they had courage to seek help or by  just walking away.

Others are tied up in bad marriages simply because they want to create a certain perfect picture of an imaginary ideal family. Some think that to be angry or upset with your partner is to break the vows. It’s never that serious guys. It’s just life!

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Worn, shorn or tied, shoes have been a thorn in my flesh

Shoe- Shoo

Whenever matters shoes are mentioned, a flood of nostalgic memories of  life and times when shoes were a foreign subject in remote land recur. It was a rare object; an object of beauty, of envy, a wonder to behold  but also an object and subject of constant  suffering. One was damned with them and damned without them.

The trials and tribulations that this Assistant Junior Clan Elder(AJCE), that is yours truly, he who is domiciled in the Remoteroute land,  has gone through as it concerns this articles and artifices worn, shorn, tied and at times affixed on our soles have and continue to be so many that at times it feels as if our souls will be damned  hereto as a result.

As a Remoteroute mohine, that is tough guy, yours truly didn’t encounter these blessed articles of clothing till when he had completed what was 1st phase of the then a zero system of education (or what does  eight less four less four result to?) at the Remoteroute primary school.

In those days, the so called academies which are the bane of today’s parent pockets didn’t exist. The most advanced of the elites in the Remote village(the clergy and the teachers) would take their kids to boarding schools.

Primary schools (that meant day schools ) were not for the faint hearted. Especially matters urinal and latrines- no ablution blocks then- but we survived barefoot.

We were tough guys then from the start. Unlike today’s digital babies who have to be mollycoddled with mother’s milk for a whole half year, we never had such luxury. We were in a big hurry to be seen and to see the world, so at the earliest convenience we started chewing what our toothless gums could handle. The process was as analogue as we were.  Our tougher mothers, who would have delivered the same day  they had spend in the farm, would select a good sized and well matured green banana. There was a specific kind of ‘child banana’ which would be roasted nice, brown and sweet while buried in hot ash. The good mother would then refine it by chewing thoroughly. When nicely chewed, fluid and tender, using the forefinger, the resultant paste would be  forced into our mouths until our stomachs would be full, round and tender.

By the time six, nine and twelve moths elapsed, we would be such sturdy, agile and tough tohines that we would run in the rain bare chest and not even a whisper of cold would be heard. Despite all the energy and plant carbohydrate our old pals buffeted us with, once in a while, a challenge would occur- the sturdy round stomach would continue to elongate, the arms and leg would thin and red firely crown would be erected in our heads where once black hair stood.

On spotting such a dare, our innovative parents would spring to action- ‘animal protein’ was required pronto. In the remote land, animals were plenty in all shapes, sizes and habitats. The above symptoms pointed only one direction for cure- our underground furry friend to the rescue. So the fathers then would mount an operation restore black hair. Armed with a hollowed out small stem with a few holes bored at intervals, a rope strung and a flexible pole, the old fellows would scout the land for moulds made by the burrowing underground animal protein carriers aka moles. Within a week, with several catches of juicy sharp teethed little furry friends, the hair colour would be restored, the legs and arms enriched and the mohine better than ever. Unlike today when cat meat   big deal, nobody raised a finger then on such succulent feeding.

So such a tough fellow never needed to hide his hide under hideskins in the name of footwear. However, as the influence of foreign gods and men began to be felt, yours truly started his continuing battle with footwear. After watching and praying, and especially for the sake of visiting the good Lord’s house on Sundays- a day when he would meet, nay clash with water over his entire breadth, width and height- and only on Sunday, he would be obliged to put on a pair of shoes.

The trouble with this exercise was twofold. First, in the wisdom of his parents, a fit shoe was a no no. It had to be  two sizes bigger so as to serve longer. So yours truly would have to stuff all manner of foreign objects to fill the spacious shoe. And then fit his feet.  The second challenge was that other shoes were always too small. This was a result of inheriting the retired but better  off shoes which would be a size or two too small for him. In either case, the wearer suffered but  as a rule, we persevered.  And got blisters. And hated shoes. This meant that as soon as we returned home from Sunday school, we would throw the shoes as far as we could- and exhaled in the freedom.

At the remote route, we love and cherished our animals. As earlier alluded, animal protein was a precious part of our curative therapy. Since our affection for all kinds of animals was  well established, it was rude and uneconomical to build separate dwellings for animals. Indeed, animal rights brigade opened first post at Remoteroute. So the boys would be bundled together with goats, dogs and chicken. In part, I suppose it was for heat/warmth transfer and retention. Our residential house –floor, wall- were  earthen and water was a  scarce resource. It therefore followed that  not only did we wake up smelling like billy goats but we become natural habitats for all kinds of small borrowing and biting  insects. Chief among the insects were fleas and lice. Since in a way we had to keep the food chain unbroken, fleas would graduate to jiggers as a halo of white covered our head.

When it came to shoe-craft, a white head was preferable any day to swollen toes. Worse suffering would be in store if in the process of mitigating against  jigger infestation, by use of thorns and safety  pins, half if your toes would be torn and shred. Any kind of footwear would be pure torture but as tough fellows bravely persevered and smiled.

At that time, certain not so scrupulous traders brought plastic shoes which would change shape and size depending on the temperature. In the morning they would refuse to fit. In the afternoon, they have enlarged such that they simply didn’t fit. Between dragging them and carrying then aloft, it was a choice between two evils.

Concomitant with the above tribulations, removing shoes was an environmental disaster which would have required an impact assessment report before it happened. Wiser heads when on a  visit would happily let you step in with the shoes rather than risk the pungent smell tainting their houses for days later.  Even the introduction of socks later on didn’t abate the menace.

Today, whenever I visit my better off friends and relatives and find pairs and pairs of shoes outside their doors, am always forced to do a quick calculation. Will my visit add any value to them? Do I have to expose my malformed smelly footwear and force smiles of anguish on my host? Next time i decline your visit invitation, look no further than my feet.

The passing of many moons, floods and droughts has not changed much.. Despite having slaughtered  several goats to be inducted as a Assistant Junior Elder, my shoes still tend to get an academic angle after wearing them for a short while.

Despite all the fights and struggles, my shoe tribulations and trials of this wearer persist.

I need an urgent intervention.

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Life

closedMinds closedGates

The wise ones in the far off cold and lonely land of the white men who are not white, in his eloquence and fore sight- or at whatever level, decreed that  an English man’s house is his castle. It is his to rule, fortify and trouble. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the fort haunts the owner (English or not) to his detriment and dismay.

After the scaly skinned, ice bitten long nosed fellows (seems to be the most flattering description of them who partitioned Africa) came and saw the open, uncluttered and free flowing African way of life, they (the fellows, not Africans) decided that it was too primitive and decided to partition the continent, the communities, families and individuals.

Among the legacies of that blissful period when a black skin was synonymous with foolishness, sub human and distasteful being was the urge to build walls, restrictions and impede free flow of  people, good and thought.

In his pursuit of being as whiter as snow, the African has adopted and maintained a healthy dose of individualism, selfishness and me-me only attitude typical of the capitalistic lifestyle blindly adopted with such vigour and shamelessness, worshiping at the altar of self aggrandizement to the detriment of our social, spiritual and moral parts.

Due to various fears and an exclusionist primitive weath accumulation culture adopted by those who have had a chance, a number of Africans are becoming richer and richer as a majority plod on in poverty.

And as the wealth has increased so has the urge to build walls.

And gates.

As the gates have closed, so has our minds.

We have become more adept at building stronger and fancier fences, restricting view of our accumulated wealth from our less fortunate neighbours. In this we are hoping to hold on to what we have, hopefully add more and be better.

What delusional grandstanding!

We have become better at building stronger fortresses, sturdier houses, steel doors and reinforced windows.

We are also building more beautiful coffins and grander hearses.

In as much as the walled compounds keep the undesirables away from us, they also keep the undesirables from us in the compounds.

As we entomb ourselves in better walled compounds, we are also restricting our world view. Closed gates are reflective often of our closed minds, where we restrict the flow of divergent human beings  with divergent ideas which would  re invigorate our thinking, world view and perceptions.

Our closed minds more often than not, starved of the sunshine of humanity. Inside our walls see the less fortunate as lacking in merit, thought or values. Just like plants starved of sunshine that  grow fast, they unfortunately  lack in strength. In  seeking the joy of apricity, they grow tall and crooked, lacking in muscle and good for nothing.

Often, the compounded people will drive to equally exclusive everything under one roof shopping malls in private vehicles. Their children will go to exclusive schools and meet other exclusive scholars. This inbreeding leads to single unrealistic world view.

Far be it, good people that denigrating success or romanticizing poverty. However, we need to a certain level confront our fears and seek to level our prosperity model such that we don’t leave behind a large portion of our population in extreme poverty as a slice of the population prospers.

And builds castles.

And walls.

And gates.

For this failure, we have become poorer as human beings, and live a life devoid of joy  we were intended to have.

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Life

Tying the Knot

Kentia, our lower primary tutor taught us, could tie a tie.  If this gentleman (if I could be allowed to so describe him) whom I suspect today was from one of the communities described by a jaundiced colonial minded anthropologist as ‘warlike’, well ,if this war like community member could twist and turn that blessed strip of material in a failed attempt to commit suicide, well everyone else should. Or precisely, should be able to.

Now that I where my fight with the tie commenced.

Since I possessed just a bit too little  hot blood in me- together the (in)famous Tusker, the faithful sidekick of the famous cartoon character Juha Kalulu- RIP BW. Gitau, the towering patriach of cartoonist in Kenya-well, well, as we both -Tuska and I, not Kalulu nor Gitau) would take off at the maximum allowable speed at the slightest scent of a confrontation, I dared not match the enviable acumen of Bw. Kentai in tying the loose ends of the cloth.

Actually, the capability of correctly, nicely or flamboyantly twisting the neck piece, was and is a dexterous combination of a science and an art. Whereas some nimble fingered  fellows would do it in a jiff,  for the life of me I could tie. There would always be a loose middle, with the not being unwilling to compact or properly align to the rest of the cloth.

For all our affectations of the western culture, and specifically clothing, I think the tie ranks as the most rancid. For all am worth, am unable to see, hear or feel the goodness or the smartness of this piece of cloth. Its constrictive nature not only makes the mostly male species who adorn it lack adequate air in their system but also doesn’t improve their temper. Whenever I see my mdosi in a tie in the morning am forewarned- it will be a long day- with long faces.

The tie conjures the image of a western correct bureaucrat who is more concern about the dotting of the Is and the crossing of the Ts rather than the sense in the action. It has become a favourite hiding ground for the thiefs and scoundrels- unfortunately both inside the previously venerated institutions of the government and the church.

As we celebrate International Necktie Day is on October 18th, maybe we can do it differently- by burning it.

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Life

Magical Monday

Monday is a magical day. It’s the day when the week magically pops, a day when the week egg breaks bringing forth a new creature- a new week.

Is a day full of expectations and brimming with hope. It’s a day for a new beginning- a day ones feels energized, bursting with optimum good feeling – ready to tackle whatever the week may have in store.

On Monday, many expectations are intact. The promise of a new dawn holds. It’s a day of renewed hope, rejuvenation and expectation.

On Mondays, flowers unfurl. Sweetly held nectar brightly wafts aloft as plants seek new life. Papery soft petals unfold to the world, adding colourful sheen to the dull world.

All bright children – those that score aids without being aided by their tutors- surely were born on a Monday. Their strategic forward looking mothers knew- and the kids concurred-  that being born on any other day just can’t be like being born on a Monday.

At big toast to magical Monday!

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