Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our Visits to Upcountry Back in the Days....and why we need to sue some people.

The little rascals are all over, they’ve descended like an undisciplined army. Everything has all of a sudden become fragile, delicate or at risk of being destroyed. They just seem not to care, their energy is endless, and they are full of laughter and screams as they go about their rampage.
I tried to resist them, but eventually gave in to their terror. So instead of telling them not to touch anything, I just kept everything away. As for the screaming, the running all over and the laughing (by the way I seem to always miss the joke..), I chose to ignore, and instead kept aside the work that I was finishing up, and joined the other adults in doing some errands and drinking some Muratina.
The festive season is here, and people are visiting their folks, their relatives, others have gone down to the coast, and many others have travelled upcountry (except those guys who are stranded at Country Bus station because the fares have been doubled...I don’t know how long it will take them to learn that the PSVs always do that during this period)
So these nieces and nephews of mine have also been taken to visit their Shosho (who happens to be my mother) for their Christmas holidays, which then technically means that they have gone to Ocha.
Watching them arrive with small backpacks, and watching DvDs all evening made me reminisce our visits to our Grandmothers back then. Those days, our uncles didn’t have any phones that needed to be unlocked so that we guys could play games (yah, they have downloaded a million games on my should have seen my evil smile when i unlocked my phone for them, knowing very well that it didn’t have any games in it, thinking that they would return it disappointedly!)
Back in the day, a visit to Ocha began with my mother packing two huge bags which our clothes and some shopping that included things like Unga ya Chapati, our soaps, our toothpaste etc(we did not need to pack our toothbrushes, there were some which were permanently stationed at both our grandmothers’—though they had to be boiled in water before we used them)
My brother and I would then carry one of the bags, while my mother carried the other one and an umbrella (I think that either Umbrellas used to be very expensive those days, or this particular umbrella used to be very special for my mum. This is because there are several occasions where she forgot it in those Upcountry Matatus, and somehow it had to be look for and be returned to her). Our sister used to walk behind us.

Four sections of the Safari
The Safari had four sections. Section one was taking a KBS bus to town. This was the easiest part. The second section involved taking a Nissan Matatu from town to some town nearest to the Grandmother that we were visiting first.(our visits used to be divided into two, a visit to my mother’s mother and another to my father’s mother, the stay used to be for 3-4 weeks, not this 2-4 day visit that I saw the other day). This second section had its own characteristics. First, there were these fellows who would sit in the Matatu is as if they are travellers, but leave one by one as the real travellers get in. Secondly, there were these hawkers who’d shove the handkerchiefs, sweets (Tropicals,Patcos,Orbits,Big Gs) and biscuits that they were selling at our faces, asking us (the kids) to pick one, then ask for the money from my mother (along the years, we stopped taking the sweets since we knew very well that the hawker would be tongue-lashed by my mother for asking her to pay for the sweets and we’d be told to give them back).The only luck we had was the fact that I used to vomit when travelling in KBS’s, or for long journeys,,,so we would get a tropical sweet or two, to counter the vomiting.(by the way my throwing up always had a domino effect on other travellers, so it was wise to just buy the sweets). The third characteristic was a preacher man praying for “journey mercies,” and ask for tithe, and the last characteristic was someone always holding the Matatu back when it was ready to go, by either wanting to go and pee, or waiting for some change due to last minute buying(yet the hawkers were hovering around all that time!).
The third section was the worst. It mostly involved getting into a tired “face me” pickup Matatu. Here, the bags would be thrown onto the carriers, and we would get into the Matatu thing, where my mother would sit and carry my sister on her laps and we would stand, since sitting on the wooden benches was for adults. Passengers would then begin filling in, and we would be thoroughly squeezed in between people’s armpits, thighs and buttocks. Every time this “Face me” stopped, I would hope that we had arrived only for mother to say “Baaado” in a manner that suggested I should just get used to the squeezing.
You can imagine us holding up somewhere in there!
Photo from
The fourth and the last section was us leaving our bags at one of the shops at the shopping centre, and walking for some distance so as to reach my Shosho’s homestead, our older cousins (on my Father’s Mother side) would then go pick the bags. But things were a bit different on our Mother’s Mother side, since the Matatu would drop downhill the tarmac road, cruise past the valley where we were supposed to alight, use the momentum climb the next hill and drop us at the top of that hill. We would then walk back to the valley with our bags, then climb another long hill off the tarmac road. There were no shops here, so we had to carry the bags up to our Shosho’s home. The other option was to alight at the hill before the valley, and walk down to the valley, then climb the hill off the tarmac road. (Today, Matatus drop people off at that very valley. I think the PSV’s those days used to have very weak engines. Or maybe they used to carry too many people. Or maybe it was just because of the habit of those drivers of switching off the vehicle’s engines when going downhill so as to use the momentum to save fuel on the uphill. Whatever was the case, those people should posthumously know that i did not like being dropped off two kilometres from where i was supposed to be alight.)
The return trip used to be much better, since it never had “face me” Matatu section. It would always be replaced by an exciting lift on the back of a pickup. These lifts used to be from people known to our family, and strangers alike. You just waved at any vehicle coming your way. At times, we could get a relative going back to Nairobi, and we would hike a free ride all the way (with my mother insisting on adding something for the fuel)
**It is only in order that at this point I request the guy who adds charcoal to the fire in hell to reduce the fire for John Michuki when he arrives there. They guy could have been a home guard, land grabber and all that, but what he did for the public transport sector was exceptional...a revolution in that sector. I sometimes wonder how people used to be productive at work after being packed like potato bags in PSVs. We now even have internet in public transport!

Life in the Village
On arrival to the homestead, we would immediately change into some shorts and t-shirts, drop the shoes and walk barefoot, and begin playing around with my cousins (in my Father’s Mother homestead) or begin climbing fruit trees(on my Mother’s Mother Shamba, she still has so many fruit trees). I never liked the idea of walking barefoot since it was always uncomfortable for the first few days, but we had to do it, maybe to fit in. Back then, children in our rural areas were not allowed to go even to school with shoes. Not that they didn’t have them, they actually wore shoes to church, but just because of some colonial mentality in the schooling system. So kids would outgrow their shoes, leaving the shoes still in very new condition, to be passed down to the younger kids.
Whoever did away with that no-shoes-to-school rule should also receive some preferential treatment if he lands in Jehanam, or get the whitest cloak from the angels if he goes to heaven. If he believes in reincarnation, he should then come back as a Mara River Crocodile.(those things just spend the whole day swimming, basking in the sun, mating, and I hear that they can go for months without eating, just waiting for the annual wildebeests’ migration!)

Back in the village, we would spend the days cutting Napier grass for the cows, picking coffee(Tea needed some skills, so it was picked by the adults), taking the Coffee to the factory, splitting firewood(i used to be spared this job, the axe never landed at the same place twice), sometimes we would take the cows to the cattle dip, the milk to the KCC collection point, being sent to the far away shops to buy cigarettes(despite the distance, i used to like this since we would always buy sweets with the change), spend the rest of the day racing, climbing trees, stealing fruits from neighbours' trees, throwing stones(most of the times at birds), weighing ourselves after weighing the coffee, visiting neighbour’s homes, visiting other relatives (some whose connection i have up to date not grasped, since the explanation always began with something like “so and so’s mother’s father had two wives, one of the children of his other wife got married to so and so, who was related to our grandfather through.....; but we were nevertheless very close to those relatives). If it was Christmas day, we would go to the shopping centre to solicit for “Christmas” from our older relatives who came back from Nairobi.
The evenings would be spend around the fire (mostly smoke) in Shosho’s kitchen, with her cooking on the three stones, and us constantly blowing the fire to reduce the smoke. Looking back, i now pity the goats that used to live at a corner in the Kitchen. They must have suffered a lot from the smoke. I don’t know why the goats used to live in the kitchen though. Maybe it was to serve as a constant reminder to the cook that we should not go for very long without some meat protein.
Both my Shoshos were never the story telling type, so we just told each other stories, pushing each other on the wooden seats....
The only similarity that I can draw between my Shosho’s visit back then, and the Shosho’s visit that i saw from my nephews and nieces, is the giggles, accusations and counter accusations that were brought about by some loud fart from anonymous. But even in this similarity there was still a difference. Today, these kids leave the matter unresolved. Back in our day, if the suspect denied responsibility, then the smoke from the cooking fire would follow the offender and hence settle the matter. If this did not still solve the matter, a song would be sung by the least suspected person, and s/he would, with every word, point at the next person, and whoever is pointed last is the guilty one. It went something like;
Nuu wathuria,(who’s farted?)
Ni gitarariki,(It’s a python)
Kiauma mutitu,(coming from the forest)
Kwenja marima(to dig holes)
Maguthika nyina(to bury its mother).....etc etc,,.

At the end of it all, Shosho or one of the mothers present would serve the food and we would go to sleep, with our cousins leading the way, since we could not see in the night, but they could. (They could even see the Red Ants tracks).
The food was always too much, that the only meal that i used to finish was a special one, made for me only, which was a mixture of either white rice with milk, or Ugali and milk. One of my aunt’s still makes fun at me about how i used to demand for that mixture.

Back into the future
Now that i had decide to “let myself go” even with the serious happenings in the Central African Republic (C.A.R) and South Sudan, i decided to get to know these little relatives of mine a little better.
So i called them around, and asked for any volunteer to tell us a story......none came forward, so i decided to do it myself.
I began with one Gikuyu folklore, then, due to public demand, told them another Dawida folklore that i had once heard from my friend Mwandawiro Mghanga (who has a huge collection of these folklores!). The demand for these stories soared, and that’s when i realised that i had landed myself into a new problem: They would not stop nagging me for another story, yet i could not remember any other!
 As i tried to remember some other folklore, i also flexed my new found power, by demanding that they, from now on, add the title Uncle before my name, and i was immediately obeyed.
After some time, i remembered some famous story from my childhood days, and i decided to tell it to them, only if they agreed to go sleep immediately the story ended, and we had a deal.

Guys must have very been idle to come up with such stories
Unlike the traditional oral narratives which have a moral lesson, the story that i told them next had no lesson whatsoever. These stories, unlike the folklores, use real places and events. This is why the guy who created those stories should be sued for the crimes of causing fear to children (i re-told the story under duress, so i am not culpable.)
Given my salt adding skills, plus a few remixes whereby i made myself appear in the story, i could see the kids flowing with me through the suspense and the fear.
Coming to think of it, these stories were usually said by born again people, to scare us into further submitting to God and get saved......and they story tellers really knew how to narrate them!

Below are samples of these stories;
The lady that i sat next to in the bus to Mombasa (it always had to be Mombasa!)

"I got into the bus to Mombasa and sat in the back seat. Next to me sat a middle aged woman wearing a Buibui. We were travelling at night, and in the middle of the travel, in the middle of nowhere, the lady called out at the driver, and told him that he should stop the bus because she had reached. The driver responded by telling her that he could not stop there, since we were in the middle of the National park, and that lions would appear and eat her up.
The woman continued to insist that she wanted to get off the bus since she had reached. The driver also insisted that he would drop her off at the next town centre, since he could not allow the woman to be eaten by lions.
After a few minutes of silence, the driver felt a hand tapping his left shoulder, with the woman telling him to stop the bus. When the driver looked back to see who was tapping his shoulder, he realised that it was the same woman, still seated at the back seat, but had elongated her arm up to the front, where the driver sat and tapped his shoulder!!(Ramayan style!)
At this point, the driver stopped the bus, and as the woman alighted from the bus, she told the driver that she is going to meet her family, since belongs to the lions’ clan."
(In order to make the story sound real, the guy telling it would insist that it is true, since he was seating next to the lady, and s/he saw it all)

The homeless woman at night
So there was this man driving home at night, and he was stopped by an unclothed woman, and he stopped to help her out. She told him that she was lost, and she had been robbed off everything, and she needed somewhere to sleep. So, the good guy decided to help her, and drove to a nearby hotel, where he gave the woman some money to pay for her accommodation, and buy some clothes.
The woman refused and instead said that she wanted to sleep at the man’s home. The man gave it a thought and decided to go with the woman home.
In the middle of the night, the man decided to go to his kitchen, and just when he stepped out of the bed, he saw two legs of a goat, standing next to the bed!! He got scared, and rushed back to his bed, and began to pray quietly.
In the morning, he woke up and found the woman in the kitchen, and the goat legs were not there.
He told the woman what he had seen, and the woman told him that he was lucky that he prayed that whole night. The guy asked the woman how she knew that he had prayed that night, and the woman responded, “we always know”, and left the house.

The Jacket story (this’ the one i told the kids)
It was raining heavily, and this man was standing at a bus stop with a woman (it looks like the woman had to be the Jini) who was feeling very cold because she had dressed lightly. So the man offered the woman his black leather jacket, and the woman gave the man her home address, so that he could go for the jacket the following day.
As agreed, the man went to address the following day, found the house and made a knock. An old woman opened the door, and the guy introduced himself, and asked for the woman that he had helped.
The old lady was shocked, and she told him that the woman he is asking for died ten years ago. The man could not believe it, and the old woman asked that they go to the backyard, so that she could show him her grave.
When they went to the back, the man was shocked to see his Jacket lying on top of the grave! He went and picked it up, and confirmed that it was indeed his jacket.

The girl who causes accidents
There is this very beautiful girl, who if you are driving on the highway, she will appear right in the middle of the road and if you try to avoid hitting her, you will swerve off the road, roll off, and all the occupants will die, except one Pastor who emerges from the wreckage unscratched. If you instead decide to knock her off, the car will still roll and everyone will die, except, again, the Pastor.
When the police arrive at the scene, they’ll find dead bodies with no blood. Kumbe what happens is that the girl transforms herself into a housefly, and drinks off all the blood of her victims!
Only the Pastor sees the girl, people around the place just see a car swerving and rolling.

The Goats of Kongoweya (at least this one has a moral lesson)
There was this truck driver and his Makanga who used to deliver weekly vegetable consignments to Mombasa’s Kongoweya Market, from upcountry.
One day as they were leaving Kongoweya, they saw these three goats, that they kept seeing whenever they delivered the vegetables. These goats seemed to have no owner, and they would eat fruits and vegetables on sale, without the vendors shooing them away.
So the two decided that since the goats had no owners, and since these goats were a big nuisance to the vendors, they would load them into the trucks, and go back with them to upcountry (Bara).
They loaded these goats into the back of the truck, and locked it with the padlocks. As they were heading back, they decided to make a stop at Mutitu Andei so as to eat something and continue with their journey. But as they were coming back to the truck, they heard some noises at the back and decided to have a look. When they opened, they saw that the three goats had turned into three very old women, and they were saying “turudishe kwetu!!
They guys freaked out, turned the car and went straight to Kongoweya, but to their surprise, when they opened the back, they didn't see the women, but the three goats!!

May those in support of suing the people who created these stories say aye!

Happy New Year good people!

Benedict Wachira
29th December 2013


Sunday, December 15, 2013

On The East African Community, and the Coalition of the Willing

During Kenya’s 50th anniversary celebrations of independence from classical colonialism at the Kasarani Stadium, there were three interesting things that happened with relation to the East African Community (EAC) and by extension the Coalition of the Willing (CoW).
First, both Presidents Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda addressed the gathering in Kiswahili. For the Wapenzi wa Kiswahili, this was an extremely important step towards promoting Kiswahili as the lingua franca of the region. They could have chosen to speak in English (just like President Uhuru Kenyatta did), and hence reach out to everyone, including the foreign guests, but they did not. This is because their messages were focused at the hearts of the Kenyan masses.
Secondly, President Kikwete spoke very well of Kenya’s economy, he spoke about the tensions within the EAC, and more importantly, he acknowledged the fact that the peoples of Tanzania and Kenya were very close to each other, and that Tanzania was firmly in the EAC.
The third interesting thing was that all the Presidents in the EAC were present, except President Paul Kagame, who instead chose to send his Prime Minister and a few traditional dancers to represent him. President Joseph Kabila was also in attendance. This was interesting because Kagame rarely misses any chance to come to Kenya, and it raised eyebrows given the recent developments in the EAC.

The problems within the EAC (and the CoW)
In the recent past, there have been serious tensions between Tanzania and Rwanda, over the constant interference of DRC’s internal matters by Rwanda. Tanzania took a progressive stand, and together with other SADC forces (including Congolese forces) moved into DRC and kicked the Kigali backed M23 rebels out.
There were also rumours that Kagame wanted to start a civil conflict in Western Tanzania, and this led to the kicking out of Rwandan Nationals living in that region.
The other major tension within the EAC was with the formation of the CoW (Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda), where Tanzania cried foul and even threatened to withdraw from the EAC. In a counter move, Tanzania formed its own coalition with Burundi and the DRC. Economically speaking, this was a great counter, given the immense wealth of the DRC vis-a-vis that of the CoW countries.
Frantic efforts were made by both Kenya and Tanzania to lessen the tensions, with Tanzania’s FM stating that they “had now agreed to work together”, and said something to the effect that they have now learnt that “some people (Kagame and Museveni) wanted to take advantage of Kenya’s young leadership to advance their personal interests in the region.”
What happened after those meetings was even more interesting. It seems that what we were not told about those talks was that Tanzania may have demanded that Paul Kagame does not succeed Museveni as the rotational Chair of the EAC, and Kenya must have agreed to that demand, and so as to save Kagame’s face, Rwanda had to create excuses of Kagame’s “busy schedule next year since it was the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.” This could explain Kagame’s skipping of the Kenya @50 celebrations, and further explains Kikwete’s conciliatory tone at the same event. (this Rwanda-Tanzania tension within the EAC is not new; 14 years ago, it is Tanzania that opposed Rwanda’s membership into the EAC, keeping it in the cold for 10 years)

Tanzania should rescind its backward stand
But even with the progress made in terms of mending fences, Tanzania must revoke its backward stand, if the EAC is to become a reality.
Tanzania’s approach on the EAC has been that of fear and mistrust. They fear that their land will be taken away, their businesspeople will lose to their Kenyan counterparts, they fear that they will lose jobs to the other EAC partners etc,,and they have therefore used  every opportunity to halt/slowdown the integration of the EAC countries. Tanzania seems to be hostile to the idea of Political Unity, and it is instead pushing for slow economic unity first. This is in great contrast to its position in the EAC of 1967-1977 where Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was at the forefront of pushing for Political Unity of the three countries.
Earlier, Mwalimu Nyerere had pushed for the delay of Tanzania’s and Uganda’s independence, so that the three countries could gain their independence on the same date.
 In an interview with Ikaweba Bunting for the New Internationalist Magazine in 1999, Nyerere said: “I respected Jomo (Kenyatta) immensely. It has probably never happened before in history. Two heads of state, Milton Obote [Uganda's leader] and I, went to Jomo and said to him: `let's unite our countries and you be our head of state'. He said no. I think he said no because it would have put him out of his element as a Kikuyu Elder.
That was how much Tanzania supported political Unity, back then.

During the CoW debate, President Kikwete gave an address to the Tanzanian Parliament, where he said that Tanzania was committed to a Political Union, but before that, Tanzania would have to gain economically since according to him, a political union would be baseless without economic gain. He further used the example of the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, the oldest political union in Africa, to prove just how committed Tanzania is to Political Unity.
These are two things that Kikwete grasps in an upside down manner. First, the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar was Political from the start. If it were to take the economic route first, then Tanganyika would have no basis of forming any union with Zanzibar. The fact the Kiwete used the Tanganyika-Zanzibar example shows that he was deep asleep when Mwalimu Nyerere was teaching us about Unity.
Secondly, economic unity does not bring Political unity, neither is it the basis of Political unity. The tribulations in the European Union have proved that economic union is a risk, if political decisions are made separately.
If economics alone is what brings countries together, then Kenya and Uganda would have been one country by now.
What unites a Garba herder in Moyale and a Kisii peasant in Nyamira is the ‘Kenya Political Union’. In fact, there is very little economic union between that Moyale herder and that Nyamira Peasant. It is because of this Political Union that the Nyamira peasant will be more saddened and angered when the Moyale herder is attacked by militias from Ethiopia, than he would be when the same militia attacks Ethiopian Garba herders in the Ethiopian side of Moyale.
Africa/African Regions should first be united politically, and then the other struggles follow. The EAC should allow its citizens to move, work, live and own property wherever they want within the EAC. The streamlining of language, education, laws, governance systems, transport and communication etc should then follow.

What we have now is aloof
The present EAC arrangement is out of touch with the common Mwananchi. Other than these wrangles, the common Mwananchi is never aware of what goes on at the EAC summit meetings, Council meetings, EALA sittings, EACJ rulings etc.
Even Richard Sezibera, the EAC Secretary General is a little known individual outside Rwanda. (Maybe in the short term, the EAC treaty should be amended to change the way the Secretary General is appointed, and give more power to that office. It would be better if the Secretary General went through some form of elections while maintaining the country rotations, rather than present system of presidential appointments.)
Today, the EAC matters belong to Governments, big business, foreign interests, and interested citizens, in that order.
The progressive Common Markets Protocol signed three years ago is deliberately being sabotaged; Good on paper, non-existent on the ground.
Some quarters blame the media for the black out, but each of these member countries have their own state owned media outlets.

Unity will still be achieved in the whole of Africa, not just in the EAC
Some of our leaders think that they can divide the people just because they are in power, but there is more that unites the African people, than the imaginary lines and ideas that are used to divide them. In the long term, African integration is inevitable.
Even here in East Africa, countries have in the past gone to war against each other, borders have been closed, stereotypes have been promoted, but still the integration talk has refused to leave. The Maasais, the Kurias, the Tesos, the Taitas and many other peoples along the borders still visit/receive their relatives and friends without giving any considerations to the colonial borders and the existing restrictions. Kenyan Youths will continue occupying Dar es Salaam for their holidays, Kenyan students are a permanent feature in Ugandan colleges, Chaga traders run Gikomba clothes market, Ugandan workers are running South Sudan, Tanzanian musicians are household names in Kenya, East Africa Radio and TV have followers throughout the region and Kiswahili is growing in the region, uniting the People.
Panafricanists should continue to intensify their work towards African Unity and integration, including regional Unity and Integration.

But even as the integration of the EAC continues, serious efforts should be made to change that thing that they call East Africa Community National Anthem. First, the tune is so boring that it sounds unAfrican, and the lyrics are uninspiring. Who approved that thing?

There were many other interesting things that happened during the #KenyaAt50 celebrations, and one of them was the Presence of President Mohamed Abdelaziz of Western Sahara.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has been getting it very wrong on internal matters, but when it comes to external affairs, he has been on the very correct path.
 Kenya is set to host a PLO embassy; The embassy of Western Sahara will be reopened soon; Kenya will open embassies in Cuba, Algeria, Ghana, Angola and Djibouti; Visas for Africans will be processed at the point of entry (though he should get rid of the term” based on reciprocity”), Kenya will contribute thousands of troops to the yet to be formed African stand-by Brigade, Kenya has managed to mobilise Africans against the West’s imperial interests............we are truly living in interesting times.
President Mohamed Abdelaziz of Western Sahara with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya
at the Kenya @50 Celebrations in Nairobi Kenya

Benedict Wachira
15th December 2013