Has someone ever promised you something and they never kept their word? Sucks. Right? It’s a terrible feeling to wait for something then not get it. I am saying this in relation to this post coming late. I remember hyping you, that we will be meeting here on Wednesdays. Then, like a rogue boyfriend, I failed to show up for our “date”. No calls. No apologies. That’s enough to make me a villain damn quick. It would be easy to just dive in. Ignore you. Start writing and act like I had said nothing. I would give technical hitches as an alibi for my lateness. But there is nothing technical about it. So this is what really happened.
So, I stayed up late on Tuesday reviewing the whole thing. Correcting a mistake here. Adding some juice there. Unfortunately, the gods and the people working at Kenya Power must have conspired to have me in bed before dawn as the lights went out prior to clicking publish. I had to show up today. Late but apologetic. Pardoned? Yes? Thank you.
By Murang’a I imply Kabati. A place that goes by that name. You cannot mention Murang’a and not evoke a nostalgic feeling in me. A feeling of excitement. A feeling of resilience. If Murang’a was a person, it would be a man. A hardy man. A family man maybe. A man who comes home at 2330hrs after having a business meeting at his favorite local. Who sits at the table of men and they talk money while sipping whiskey. And once in a while enjoys a throaty laughter. This man gets home carrying a packet of oreos for his youngest daughter but finds her asleep. Murang’a would be the kind of man who strokes his belly once he is sleepy and lets out a loud belch after having a sumptuous meal. You know, the typical African man. Who would never be seen in the kitchen. He sits in the comfort of his couch as his food is prepared by one of his many daughters. The kind of man whose word supersedes your opinions. He makes the rules. You take them. He values his family and takes care of his children and probably those of his brother who was wiped out by some illicit liquor.
Murang’a has been kind and harsh almost in equal measure. I grew up here. In this part of Kenya, you grow up not having many advantages available to you. The environment mocks your vision. Dreams of becoming a doctor or a pilot are but only a mirage. The dreams you nurse in your heart are those of having something to eat. Something to help you survive. Three meals are only for the posh. You only have one meal then wash it down with water. Lots of water. And off you go to school. During lunch breaks, you sit under shades and chat with your friends who finished their meals in the course of the lessons. You know, those chaps who have uncontrollable pangs of hunger. They open their lockers while the teacher is in class, slightly lean in and bite huge chunks of ugali. Then swallow them whole.
In the afternoon lessons, you can’t make a head or tail of what the teacher is saying in class. Hunger nibbles on you. As your classmates are assaulted by sleep after a lunch break of indulgence, you are wide awake. But psychologically absent. There are mandatory duties you have to attend to before leaving school and this further sucks the energy in you. You complete your assignment prior to leaving for home. Home is not the best of the places. You have to fetch water, feed the animals, if you have any, and somehow squeeze time to play-all these within the limited time you have after school.
Darkness crawls in and everything quietens. You all gather in the smoke-stuffed kitchen. This doubles up as the place where goats stay. You eat amidst your mum’s scolding because you are dozing off instead of taking your time to enjoy your meal eat. You then hastily wash your feet after which your mother says a long prayer. She mentions all of you and sometimes some members of the extended family. Mums are good people. If you still have pending school work, you struggle to attend to it through a weak lantern that forms thick soot.
In the mornings you have to take bland tea apparently because the sugar available is for visitors. The ones that reside in Nairobi and only show up when there is an event. These people from Nairobi go to shagz and are treated like they just landed from a far off land. Magically, the key to the big VIRO LOCK on the cupboard appears. Mugs that are slightly covered by dust are unleashed and carefully washed. A whole kg of sugar that lay waiting for the visitors comes out. Neatly folded vitambaa are spread on the
couches sofas. Couches are for the posh. Visitors have to be impressed. On the day of the visit, you get to enjoy the sweetness that is borne by tea. It even shows on your face. When people from Nairobi are visiting you in the country, you don’t just wash your feet. You go the full way. You shower. But as my friend would put it, it’s not really showering when you are using a basin and water is coming from down low (he he).
If these people from Nairobi are coming for a certain occasion, they are served first. The village folks are instructed to wash their hands after which food is poured on their hands. People from Nairobi sit under tents and eat from their plates while those from the village stand in the full glare of the sun and eat from their hands.
From Nairobi, girls are married and forced to live in houses that would easily pass as shanties. Their breadwinners then leave for the city. For the cliched greener pastures. Girls with accents from Nairobi, gradually morph into the language of the village. You ask for their number and they start “sero sefen…” Makes you wonder whether the sun still rises from the east. They are forced to farm. Blisters assault them. But they stand the pain. No more weaves. Instead, the barber now becomes their friend. They don’t get their Maybelline make-up kits anymore. They no longer make visits to the pedicurists. They need not to have their nails done as they wake up and head to their farms. Murang’a changes them from girls to women. Women who withstand all the hardships. They receive erratic calls from their significant others but nothing is romanticized. The conversation revolves around harvests, children and number of piglets delivered.
I visited Murang’a over the weekend from Nairobi and glad the place is slowly waking up. Once you approach Kabati, there’s an air that envelopes you. The air associated with affluence. You can even see it. Better houses are mushrooming in the place. Kabati doesn’t sleep early. It has been lighted up. I was happy to learn that kids no longer throng a visitor from Nairobi although they stare. A sharp stare that you can feel from the side of your eyes. You almost feel like asking for a paper and a pen to sign autographs for them. You have a moment of being the village celebrity. Nowadays, the fields we used to play in are abandoned. Kids now have play stations. Before they can even spell SKATE, they are seen on the streets. Skating with unmatched virtuosity. People now have cable TV unlike in our times when we used to all gather at Mama Waithira’s to watch her black and white TV. People nowadays buy Tissue and have abandoned the traditional maigoya leaves that were planted in close proximity to the toilets. Three meals are not for the posh anymore.
What am trying to say in these many words is that the narrative is changing. Nairobi is shrinking and people are going back to ocha. It’s not as harsh as you left it when you went to take a 4-year course but have been away for 7 years. There are salons for your wife. There are good schools for your kids. They even sell Martini in the locals but the traditional muratina is not going anywhere. There are better houses which you can buy. Businesses you can invest in. The city is like a flirtatious woman and will only blind you.
I hope reading this will convince me to go back to shagz.