The Base: It Is Kenyans That Make Kenya (Part 1)

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I’ve never fainted in my life, nor have I ever nose bled. Not that either matters or increases the country’s life expectancy or anything. They are just some of those bragging rights from primary school that don’t make sense right now. They did make this farmer’s son a lot cooler back then though. I also had never broken a bone. My factory settings were all intact. The luck didn’t last long though, my intact-bones streak ran up until when I was eleven, in Class Seven. I got my first fracture then. Not from slipping off a mango tree, getting gored by a bull, falling off a fence running from neighbourhood dogs or any of the things that usually broke bones where I grew up. Nope! Thinking about it now, it is rather embarrassing; I tripped on a flower pot. I KNOW!

It was the day I was to report back to school with a parent after being suspended for a week. Yes sir! I fancied myself a G that early, skiving from school and sh*t. Allegedly, (I denied ever being outside the school compound without official permission back then and I’m not about to flip on my word now) a group of pupils, “Yours Truly” included, had befriended the watchman’s dogs. That was (and still is) an outright lie. Why? Simple. Because those things were wolves! Impossible to tame, apart from Kibe, the big brown one that was ever chilled out. Anyway, the claim was that, to sniff freedom; we’d sneak out after lights out, pet the dogs to avoid any barking, dive into the school’s wheat field, skim through the stalks to the perimeter, squeeze through a gap between the barbed wire strands then jump over a trench being dug for the construction of a permanent fence. Sounds like a bunch of little Schofields, Sucrés and Lincolns, no? Word had finally reached the administration and our clandestine trips were to be tucked safely between the leaves of history. We were summoned to the office one by one, threatened with a record setting thrashing if we didn’t name our accomplices and promised pardoning if we dropped names. Up to now I strongly believe that teachers shouldn’t be allowed to watch good cop -bad cop or divide and conquer movies. You now know why. Of course I kept mum! But some dude, who evidently didn’t share my anti-snitch beliefs, talked. And a whole lot of us were issued with suspension letters requesting… scratch that, requiring our parents to accompany the young thugs they called sons to the school the next week.

So we swaggered out of the gate, with single strapped backpacks hugging our chests, they were ultracool back then those things. Happy to be the first suspension cases around in about ten years. We made a few rounds in Timau market, telling jokes, laughing our suspended asses off and buying stuff. I was having a time of my life. All through. Till I boarded a Meru bound matatu and started watching wheat fields and hills roll past. The whole bravado and confidence thing seemed to prefer hanging around Mt. Kenya. The further I went, the more it was replaced with ice cold apprehension. An hour before, facing The Farmer and the Old Man had seemed so easy. I had been banking on “Mwalimu ananionea!” the ancestor of “my account was hacked!” But somehow, at that moment, the phrase didn’t seem sufficient. So I started scheming, running through stories and tales in my mind, but none seemed good enough. The worry was so much that by the time I alighted from the Meru – Nkubu matatu and boarded the ramshackles that used to ferry us to Mitunguu, I could barely breath.

Well, my slow steps finally ate up the distance between the main road and our gate, I was sweating my poor pores out and shaking like a new vibrator. My major worry wasn’t what I was going to say, no sir, ma’am, I could tell a convincing tale by then. I was just afraid of the reaction and repercussions. So my plan was simple: Walk into the living room. Place the letter on the table without saying a word. Take a walk and come back later after initial tempers fizzled. As fate would have it though, I found The Farmer enjoying the afternoon, sitting on the verandah. This is Africa, we don’t have porches, we have verandahs. The ‘h’ is silent and optional (according to my spell check). She gave me that I-am-sure-I-cleared-your-fee-and-you-do-not-seem-sick look then exclaimed, “Keke! Muuga.” Man! I could almost hear “What the heck are you doing here?! You better have a good reason.” crouching behind those two words.

Now, The Farmer is Kyuk, but Kimeru has always been the lingua franca in our compound. Unless when talking about her side of the family or money (of course) or intentionally trying to leave a visitor afloat. At that moment though, those two languages dumped me, taking with them Kiswahili and this imperialist tongue. My voice had packed it’s bags and called a taxi long before I even approached home. So I silently handed her the envelope and got deeply engrossed in the affairs of a wasp buzzing above me as she read it.

I had been in Our Lady of Visitation Boarding & Primary school, usually just referred to as Visitation by everyone or Vîzî by pupils, from class one to that moment. The school was Catholic-owned so everyone was required to attend morning mass every single day and all those feasts the lovely Catholics have in their calendars. The Way of The Cross is one I particularly hated, but I almost dropped to my knees and recited all the Hail Marys when The Farmer looked up, brow creased, and asked, “Yaani they are suspending you because we drove out of school with you on the visiting day?” I almost slapped myself for not thinking of that. The visiting day had been less than two weeks before. It was against school policy, but we usually accompanied parents outside school for shopping and such and such stuff. In a second my voice moved back in and I managed quite a strong “Ta imajini!”

We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting about who and who had done what in The Banana Republic. The Old Man came by later in the evening and seemed to find the whole story hilarious. He promised to accompany me the next week. So I relaxed and enjoyed the week off.

Fast forward to the fateful day and there I am. All handsome with a fresh haircut (two lines across one temple because I’m cut out like that), spectacles on, I had a pair then, and well ironed uniform. Cream shirt and brown trousers, ugly, but we didn’t notice then. We Kenyans are quite good at recycling, few people buy flower pots. Most of those plants are planted in old paint tins, cooking fat containers and so forth. The Farmer is quite fond of flowers, so containers of all sizes were arrayed outside the house, just at the edge of the verandah. Enough space for human traffic had been left at a corner, but for lazybones like me, that corner was just too far. I preferred jumping over them and getting on to my business. She had protested for too long and finally accepted and moved on, yes I had to use that. This day was not different, with my backpack’s single strap across my skinny chest, I leapt over the damned containers, after saying my byes. One of them, however, decided it was going to miss me too much and got a hold of my foot, all mushy at the moment I imagine. I came crushing down like a pillar off the wall of Jericho. The worst thing about such falls is that everything seems to be in slow motion. You can see the ground move up to meet you, almost grinning, and all you can do is close your eyes (also in slow motion) and try your damndest to cushion the fall. I put my left arm forward in such an attempt. The poor thing hit the ground, snapped backwards at the elbow and a sharp bone from my fore arm came tearing out, several inches clean!

Okay, that is not exactly what happened, but it is the version I told everyone back at school, looking all macho. The real version is very simple actually. I fell and got up, dusting myself. The Farmer couldn’t hold back her laughter. I straightened my spectacles and followed the Old Man out. By the time we got to Meru town though, my elbow was throbbing with pain. We checked into a clinic, I got an X-ray and the source of the discomfort was determined. There was a small crack on the bone and a piece had chipped off. Not a big one. Have you ever seen an image in juxtaposition of Lamu against the mainland? That small. The whole arm got into a cast and off we went. The old man probably cursing my carelessness for costing him and I thinking up the story to tell my friends. I managed such a sympathetic look that the head teacher didn’t punish me. Nature had punished me herself. Those were his words! I just received a long lecture then got dismissed.

I remembered this whole incident on Sunday, lying in the blood donation unit, Agha Khan hospital. A friend from campus needed blood and her husband had appealed online. I usually feel obligated to retweet and share any such information to my few followers and friends incase they are in a position to help. But on this day it was personal. We aren’t the ‘hanging out all the time’ and ‘visiting each other’s homes’ kind of friends with the lady in hospital, but I know her. She’s warm and has a smile on everytime we bump into each other around school. I had a ball (no pun intended! No Sir! None!) complementing her and asking when she was due. So I felt I had to do all I could. Luckily, I still had my extra pint of O+ doing rounds inside me. The long queues during the Westgate debacle had held me out. Elephant (she’s gonna kill me for using that name) tried her best to get me contacts on Whatsapp as I rushed to the hospital. Tettie also cancelled her meeting and rushed over. She didn’t blink as the needle went in, which is quite a fete for someone from Donholm. My eyes were moist. We were among the first respondents and more than ten people walked in while we were there. Many of them even did not know who the patient was.

The tweet pleading for blood donation had gotten 1,388 retweets by the time I wrote this. Not counting manual retweeters. The Facebook post has numerous shares too and so have the photos! And more people were sending individual tweets and status updates. On Sunday, she needed 16 units of blood, she got 23.

I’ve learnt that Kenyans are a warmhearted lot, literally. Well, you people are cold out there, cursing each other in traffic, beating up cops on Thika road, SomeoneTelling CNN, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, inhumanly trolling good souls on twitter and so on … but when tragedy strikes, when something bad happens to someone we know (or even know not), we try our best to help them out. Remember the folks feeding folks at Westgate? Even Huddah showed up with water, yeah!? We know good Samaritans that rush victims to hospitals after accidents, the guys who sign petitions and pressure an incompetent government to take action against rapists, the people who take in IDPs, victims of domestic violence, girls escaping forced marriages. The list is endless. The same Kenyans were my schoolmates when I had a broken arm. They spread my bed, did my laundry, cleaned my plate and cup, served in the dining hall during my shift and cleaned my section of the classroom.Though I later beat twelve of them in badminton, successively, plaster and all. It is how we are; caring, honourable people (those damned politicians aren’t). I love being part of such a population, knowing that if something happened to me, I won’t be like that poor kid in China who was run over multiple times while people walked past, glancing.

Long live the warm hearts. Let us all send a quick recovery wish to the lovely Alice Kombani. My condolences for the baby. R.I.P

Peace peeps.

By @Ngartia

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