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My Kikuyu Frenn in These Trying Times

Riding with one hand on the narrow  highway was not as scary as I had imagined. My right hand  precariously balanced my pretty red motorbike  as it wended  through  the dull Waiyaki Way. I begged Ramayana and Osiris not to cause “A Nairobi weather” on me now, since I wasn’t armed for a downpour. For no explainable reason my left armpit itched and demanded a scratch. I ignored the reflex as I focused on the delicately balanced pack that particular hand was carrying.
I had impetuously entered into La Mama and bought  some french pastry and coffee, with intention of surprising Dona. Now I was only regretting this act. I  prayed that Maasai cattle would not anomalously  jump on the highway as they sometimes do.
I did not inform Joseh. He would not have disapproved but he also would not have encouraged it. He would have come up with a  more sensible idea in which I would see every sense, then ignore . Joseh  is one of those few pals who knows when to have those locker-room conversation and when to listen to an embarrassing ‘falling in love’ situation that men find unsettling to admit to each other. The conversation about women is usually more interesting if it is about successfully getting laid.
As I neared Dona’s apartment, I remembered the last time I made an attempt to katia her and how that went.  I had bought a couple of groceries and decided I was going to cook for her. She left her busy work station in her small sitting room as if I was  her teenage son who had called out for her, the madam, president, from the Situation Room. She then  led me into a squeezed kitchen, quickly showed me where the pans and oils and  cutlery were kept.  As soon as she left, my mind went blank. I could not recognize anything in that kitchenette and  I realized that  I actually  did not know how to cook.
Yenyewe I panicked. I frantically called Joseh  whose phone had chosen this time,of all the  times in my lifetime, to be offline.
I came out of my body, slapped me and shook my shoulders asking me to get it all together. Once I was calm, I settled back in.
I had cooked that meal imagining what Joseh would advise me to do. He’d probably say, hapo umechoma picha johyou have burnt the photo my friend.  Yes, he would repeat the phrase in English as  a direct translation to make me feel how silly that move was. Then he would encourage me with our compelling slogan,
Love  knows no dignity and will make you pick litter, (as in go mad).
I’d mercifully beseech him to be serious and convince him that my world was coming to an end. It  felt like that actually. I really wanted to leave this tiny unfriendly kitchenette and pass Dona,  hopefully her head dipped in work in the living room, and wish she wouldn’t notice me zoom off.
What was I saying…yes. I imagined that Joseh was telling me what to do. He’d advice me to be myself, be wild, explore the recipe  and shit like that.  So I did. After a clumsy start I  begun to enjoy my guess-work. At some point Dona came in and opened a bottle of Shiraz. Her face is chocolate brown and smooth with a practiced stare meant to intimidate you. She is also  artsy and knowledgeable. What else do you need in a woman!  She explained different kinds of wine and how to taste and grow them. Somewhere along the lines she excited herself and became more enthusiastic so she climbed a stool to try and reach my level. I tried hard to concentrate  but I ended up watching her  lips  move hypnotically. She was now in a farm in the Rhone valley in France, where she was planting Shiraz grapes. Yes, she was simply a sexy, black, short haired farmer in  denim dungaree shorts, asking me to pass her the shovel.
She was actually asking me to pass her the wooden spoon. The food was burning.
She cooked the rest of it. Was not impressed by my effort and I had promised to  give it up but here I was balancing french pastry on one hand as I drove the bike to her apartment  with the other hand.

I have taken time to narrate  this  incident to you just to let you know who I run to when I feel like I seriously  need help. The crush I had on Dona was one of those ones that sneak up on you and leave you helpless. Its even more annoying because you understand the game being played, but you feel like a helpless teenager. It was a tough confusing season so only Joseh was allowed to have a glimpse and be involved in   this  kidogo embarrassing situation  of my life.


This example may sound petty but matters of the heart are usually the most crucial to us humans and we are extremely careful who we share them with. At least I am. Still, over the years Joseh and I  have seen each other through periods we now consider water under the bridge but emotional memory still remind me of the scars they left. Some of them made me stronger, some of them made me paranoid and in owe of the species of life that is the human being.


Even though he is a teetotaler, Joseh is still  my favorite company whenever  I plan to be   as high as a kite. I think his  brains simply adjust waves to my level of intoxication and soon we are laughing thunderously and sharing jokes that Einstein would have no luck decoding. A guy from Islando probably would.


Of course it is not always rosy, in fact our fights last an average of four years. The first ego to run out of gas may call to apologize.


So tribe is definitely not an issue between us. I hope so. We easily have locker room meeting and make fun of both wajathe  and kyuks with the same magnitude. We have supported either side depending on the economic opportunities available. After all we agree that thanks to the politician friendly  8-4-4 education system, Kenyans are still not in a position to vote in leaders based on issues.


As far as most Kenyans are concerned political parties are football clubs playing in a very important league. Their allegiance is to the club owners. Not the club or the players.  Once loved by Baba’s people, then he fell out  with Baba and wrote a book in which he described Baba’s crying melody.  Then loved by Uhuru’s people and now again he is adored by Baba’s people as a resistance memebr. Did that leave you dizzy?


I had  announced to Joseh that I was not going to vote in the August 8th election. He was surprised and thought I should exercise my right to vote. I argued that it was also my right not to vote. The system in my opinion was flawed and I was only going to waste my time on the line. If I knew I would have taken a polythene bag and packed githeri then stood with it on the line. We later met and made fun of our decisions. Then laughed harder at the rest of Kenyans who were going to vote along tribal lines. We laughed so hard at the silliness that Kenyans had refused to make sense of.


Then shit hit the fan and boy did the shit spray all over the space. I was furious that Jubilee had attempted to steal the elections. I was convinced and irritated. What happened to dignity? Joseh could  hear none of it. He was sure Raila had played everybody. He offered a convincing hypothesis of how Raila planned it and was  furious that Kikuyus were being targeted. I was furious that Kikuyus were feeling entitled.


Soon our voices were well projected and people were listening in keenly in the lobby not knowing how to join in this argument.


Then I wondered why  my point of view could only reveal Uhuru’s wrongs while Joseh’s only Raila’s phobia? Was this not the same situation across the country -and abroad -where even the most educated Kenyans could only contribute on a basis of ones owns ethnicity? On Facebook  I saw a disfigured face of a Kikuyu woman, who wrote, ” Look what my Otieno husband did to me when I said, ‘ Wembe ni ule ule.” I looked at her face agin and laughed. Kikuyu woman if you are reading this, I apologies from the bottom of my heart.


So  the question I had to ask myself objectively  was, what was this horrible thing about Raila that Kikuyus could see and the rest of us could not? Similarly what was this horrible thing about Uhuru that Luos could see but Kikuyus could not?


But thoughts and firts have something in common. They creep on you. So the other thought , thought, (I like that)  that perhaps as liberal  as we had been, or assumed we had been, we just had not escaped the seductive arms of tribalism.


Of course often we argue that we all grew up in the same neighborhood. Kikuyus and Lughyas together. In fact I remeber my mom scolding me whenever I was dirty, which was always, that why can’t I be clean like Githaiga. There is a flavor that a luo accent adds to a Kikuyu name that never leaves it the same. However, did we ever have conversations about tribalism in the house. Do we now? Do we talk to our children and explain that our their friends may be Kikuyu or Luo but that does not mean we should hate them or fear them? They will say they don’t but you will say, when you grow up and called upon to vote, you might.


Do we even tackle the genesis of this term tribe? Why are the English, Dutch, Scottish and so on not a tribe and yet they share a similar language and culture? Why do they become tribes when referring to Africans? How and why was the idea of tribes promoted by the colonial government?


I’m getting to philosophical so let’s get back to my frenn. By the way in case you don’t know its Ruto who calls people/rivals, my frenn.


So based on the history, kinship and identity we share,  no matter how liberal-minded you are, you will empathize with your own when they get murdered and this will evoke pain and  bitterness. Similarly if your community gets targeted and made to look like an  enemy and  oppressor, you are likely to feel unsafe and react defensively. Because the truth is ethnic groups are older governments that have survived for much longer than the fifty or so years this republic has existed. They are micro-nations with oral constitutions  masqueraded as traditions and customs.


Sow we have four years together of being Kenyans. Being wives. Being husbands. Being business partners. Being in -laws. Being best friends.


And we have one year of being tribalists.

So  what happened to Dona and the meal? *sigh*

About Aroji Otieno

Observing - LIVING - Feeling

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