Dinah

Today was BSF day. That is Bible Study Fellowship for those asking. The study was based on Genesis chapters 34 and 35. Now, chapter 34 reads like an action movie. It begins;

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land.

Nothing out of the ordinary here, unless you know the full story. BSF this year has been a study of Genesis and having begun from chapter 1, I can claim a very good understanding of Dinah’s part in this story. She’s the only daughter of Jacob at this point, and she is blessed to have eleven brothers. Imagine that! The princess in this big household. You’d think she’s untouchable. Especially from the young men hanging around the neighborhood. But no. She had to go out to visit with the women of the land.

Again, this may pass as ordinary – after all which teenager wants to be locked up in the house? Except, this family was not like any other family in Shechem. They were set apart. By God Himself. They were not to mix with the Canaanites who were living in the land. But wait? She was an only daughter. Who else was she to interact with?

Anyway, she did go to visit and with that, one of the ugliest incidents in the Bible is recorded. Dinah is raped by a guy who claims to love her and will do anything to make her his wife. Including getting circumcised, as demanded by her brothers. And not just him but all the men of his entire clan. You see, this guy, Shechem, was a prince so he kinda had power over his people. But Dinah’s brothers were real schemers and in revenge for their sister, they attacked the Shechemites at their weakest moment – on the third day after they were circumcised! The aftermath would have ended up with these guys at the International Criminal Court for mass murder, enslaving women and children, and theft through plunder. It was total pandemonium!

Enough with the background! Grab your Bible and read the rest of the story. That chapter is one where God is not even mentioned. It is chaotic. If you thought today’s world is evil, human beings are just perpetuating what they have learned from their forefathers.

As a mother to three teenage daughters, Dinah’s story struck a nerve. Our world isn’t safe for children. Worrying about them is now a defining trait of being a parent. Even when they are not in any immediate physical danger, the internet presents a daily threat. I don’t want to judge Leah (or Jacob for that matter), but they should have kept that girl on a tight leash! She had no business wandering off, unaccompanied, to God knows where! I fight all the time with my girls – they want to visit their friends, go to the movies, etc and they think I’m controlling when I demand to know all the little details! And my requesting for their friends’ parents’ contacts is always a deal breaker. I know I cannot always protect them but I will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Well, until they are eighteen!

Damn! The oldest turned eighteen a couple of months ago. I guess I’ll revise that age to twenty-one! But really? What must we do to keep our children safe? I need Solomonic wisdom and maybe the wise guy knew his stuff when he said:

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Oh Dinah! Why couldn’t you just stay home helping your mother Leah? She had weak eyes and she probably needed you in the kitchen to help cook for all those your brothers! See the tragedy you brought about? And you made my mind wander from the rest of the Bible teachings….

The Year of the Corona part 1

Gather around children I tell you a story.

The year was 2020. It started off on a very high note. The beginning of a new decade. “Twendi-twendi” we called it. The entire world was upbeat and the new year celebrations were up several notches compared to previous years.

As we celebrated, we were oblivious to the strange happenings in a Chinese city called Wuhan. You see, on New Year’s eve, the Chinese authorities reported a mysterious disease that started in some wet market in Wuhan.

“What’s a wet market?”

My dear, I cannot remember what exactly it is but the place probably rains a lot. What I know is that they sold all sorts of animals there. You find an animal you’d like to use to try out a new recipe, you point at it. They slaughter it live-live, put it in a bag and you take it home to cook as you wish. It could be a dog, a snake, bats or even rats.

“Ewwww…a snake?”

“But Grandma, rats are ok to eat, aren’t they? Mama cooked some last week. They were delish!”

My dear children, back then we did not eat rats. Some guy started telling people to eat them instead of starving and we ran him out of town! How could he? Just because he was rich and could afford edible meats was no reason to condemn others to eat rats! The nerve of him!

Now where was I?

“You were telling us about the wet market.”

Oh yes! They were strange, the Chinese people. Still are…Do you know they called 2020 the Year of the Rat? Imagine that! A rat? I still cannot see anything good about rats! Tell your mama to have none of that stuff in the house when I come to visit!

Rats and bats and snakes were getting cut up and served on dinner tables in Wuhan while we continued with party after party oblivious of the storm that was coming our way. Many of us had never heard of Wuhan anyway. So January came and went.

“Grandma, did you celebrate your birthday that year?”

You clever boy! You remembered Shosh’s birthday is in January! Yes, we had a great party! In fact, I remember it was your mum who organized it. It was a surprise. Even your great-grandma was there.

“Shosh, you said party after party. How many parties did you have?” 

Oh! It was just the one. But there was a song that some guy sang and it became a hit after the governor was arrested partying and dancing to it when he should have been hiding. Will you let me finish the story?

By the beginning of February, we were hearing more and more about Corona and COVID-19. But it was still far off in China and we thought there was no way it would get to us. We heard they closed off the city of Wuhan and were using robots to deliver food to people in their houses. They had also built a large hospital in just ten days where the corona virus patients were being treated! The Chinese people maybe strange but they are also very clever! Did you know they are the ones that build the railway line that runs from Mombasa to Kampala? And that road to Thika. And the one that loops over Westlands. Oh! I think they built all the major roads you see today. The sad thing is that we are still paying for those roads. You will pay for those roads. As will your children. And their children…

Anyway, I’ll tell you something else. Even back then in 2020, Kenyans had travelled and lived all over the world. It was therefore not a surprise to learn there were Kenyans living in Wuhan. Maybe they are the ones who taught your mama to cook those damn rats! We heard they were locked up there and were begging to be allowed to come back home. We prayed and prayed for them and begged the government to bring them home. And home they came! Not just from Wuhan but from other countries too. You see, that’s why I always tell you home is best. Wherever you go, always remember home is where your Shosh is!

“Shosh, I will always come to visit you!”

“Me too!”

I know. I know. Just don’t go to Wuhan. They might lock you up in your small apartment and then we can only communicate on those gadgets of yours!

Anyway, because people were still travelling from one country to another, Corona travelled with them. Many countries started reporting increasing COVID-19 cases. Some countries were overwhelmed and the hospitals could not cope. Corona was declared an emergency of international concern on 30 January and soon it was being called a pandemic, which meant it had spread all over the world. On 13 March, the first case was confirmed here in Kenya. It was a young lady who had come from the USA.

“Where cousin Ava lives?”

Yes. That’s the one. Two days later, they were three, then seven, then fifteen cases. The numbers kept rising each day and by April Fool’s day, which no-one remembered to fool about, there were 81 cases! Three people had also died from the disease. It was a somber time. Everyone was scared. You didn’t know who had the disease and who did not. We were told anybody could gerrit!

“Shosh, last year on April Fool’s day when Ava came to visit, she froze my phone with a spooky screen that really freaked me out!”  

I remember. It is because you are always staring at that thing. It is not good for your eyes. If you don’t want to have my kind of eyes when you are still young, you need stop looking at it all the time.

Back to the year of the Corona, we were told to wash our hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer to stop the spread of the virus. People had to be taught all over again how to cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing. Touching the eyes, the nose, or mouth was a sure way to get the virus. This was very hard for many people who like to pick their nose or cut their finger nails using their teeth. But the worst was yet to come.

Soon, we were using terms such as social distancing to avoid close contact with other people. You couldn’t hug people or shake their hands. In the supermarket, tapes were used to mark out where a shopper could stand and only a limited number of shoppers were allowed at any given time. Going anywhere was discouraged and people were to stay home as much as possible. People started buying things in bulk to keep for themselves. There was a shortage of tissues and sanitizers!

“Tissues? How come?”

I have no idea. Maybe they thought since they would be home most of the time, they would overeat and need to use the toilet more often!

“Hahahaha…!” 

Then came the curfews and lockdowns. Everyone had to be home by 5pm! Only essential service providers were exempt. And before you ask who those are, your Shosh was not one of them. I stayed home. To flatten the Corona virus curve even as my tummy curve elevated. For more than two months, I could not visit your great-grandma in the village. She was all alone and very sad. And scared. We all were.

Did I tell you schools were closed indefinitely? Oh yes! Children stayed at home for almost one year. I remember your aunt was in her final year of high school. No-one knew when they would ever go back and sit for the final exam. The guy in charge of the education ministry kept changing his mind as the Covid-19 cases increased. Some time in August that year, there was hope as the cases started to decline. He said schools could open in September. Then boom! They started rising again. And he said maybe January the following year, then October, then January again! It was all so confusing. Some students started misbehaving because they were bored and had nothing to do. Some got babies.

“They got married?”

“You are funny. You don’t have to get married to have a baby. Shosh, tell him!”

That’s it! I’ll finish the Corona story another day. You mama comes tomorrow to pick you up. Remember to ask her about when is the right time to have a baby. For now, you need to get ready for bed. Go on to the bathroom and brush your teeth. Remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, do not touch your face ovyo-ovyo and for goodness’ sake, cough into the crook of your elbow!

Goodnight!

Five Years Gone

Five years ago today, the man I called baba bowed out of this life. He had a heart problem – an enlarged heart, the doctors said. There wasn’t much that could be done for him – it was left too late. But five years ago, we, his family, didn’t know that. Or maybe we knew but still thought the vibrant man we saw could weather any breathing problems, heart palpitations, fluid retention – all classic symptoms that had him admitted in hospital just four months before his demise. Baba never complained. Never said he was feeling unwell. A month or so earlier, he had come for a checkup with his doctor, himself deceased now thanks to Corona. I met him at the doctor’s. We had a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. He made his usual jokes. I drove him home – it was late in the evening and it was threatening to rain. Nothing in that interaction told me it was the last time I would see baba.

Monday 15th February 2016. 7.30am. I receive a call just as I am parking my car in the office basement. It is my brother Dave. He seems to be laughing and I cannot understand a word he is saying. I am walking towards the lift when I finally get the message. He is crying hysterically. Something about baba. We must go home…immediately. Two colleagues get in the lift with me. I look confused and maybe I tell them what I just heard. One takes my phone and calls my husband, as he settles me at a desk. I am in a daze. Soon we are driving off, first to pick my sister and then head home. Home, where baba’s lifeless body is still lying on his bed. He is still warm. I have never been that close to death. He doesn’t look dead. He is just asleep. And I finally have my moment of hysterical grief.

Five years it has taken to recount the events of that day. They say grief comes in waves, sometimes out of nowhere. Yesterday my sister shared a picture of her four year old son. He was born in 2016 – 7 months after baba left us. He is named after his grandpa. A man he never met. Someone commented how much he is turning out like his senior namesake. That gutted me. But I now have the courage to remember the man that was the pillar of not only our immediate family, but the extended family too. I may not put it as well as my brother did in this tribute but Mukabi is a name I am proud to be associated. A legacy from baba.

Life has taken its twists and turns for the past five years. Faced with some challenges, I sometimes wish he was around to offer some sound advice. Baba was a man of few words. But you didn’t forget what he said. He would say it and the next minute when you are looking for some clarification, he is nowhere to be found – you could say he was a master at the naenda hivi na-come lingual! Which sometimes made him stubborn as a mule. Once baba was convinced of something, hell could freeze over before he could change his mind.

The reason the heart problem was left too late was because of this stubbornness. At least ten years earlier, a doctor in a major hospital had suggested surgery to implant a pacemaker. Baba was in hospital then for a totally different problem – knee replacement. His few days in hospital had left him feeling too confined, and the fact that he was leaving hospital using crutches only made him more agitated. The doctor’s recommendation to follow up with a heart checkup therefore made baba fly off the handle and convinced that the doctor didn’t know what he was talking about for there was no way his heart was going to be opened up! Bringing up that subject later would only invite a naenda hivi na-come moment. I am just grateful for the ten years we got with baba after that diagnosis. He lived life to the fullest and any discomfort he might have felt was hidden well or explained away.

I have no doubt that baba loved his family and people in general. Like many men of his generation, he didn’t say it in words but his actions did. The closest I came to see baba cry was when my brother and I were being prepped for surgery, one to give a life-saving organ to the other. He later commented that not knowing whether both of us would make it out alive was the most excruciatingly painful experience he had to live through. For a man who feared hospitals enough to live with a heart problem rather than go through a surgical procedure, I can only imagine how that was like.

It’s five years today. Another Monday. I wish I could call baba and hear some joke. An off-the-cuff remark that will take me an hour to stew over. I miss his silent wisdom…I miss Mr Mukabi.

…to be continued (maybe)…

Playing Catch Up

Catch-Catch. What Miss W wrote in answer to the question: “Name some games that you play at school.” Social Studies mid-term test. I have difficulties understanding these studies so I will not attempt to delve further into that subject. The word catch is what has been in my mind. I must say we did not play catch-catch when growing up, and if we did, we sure didn’t have such fancy names for them. May be nyita-ngunyite did just fine.

I am again guilty of neglecting my baby here and so I am playing catch up today. A lot has been happening with my clan, not forgetting the butterer of my bread who has been relentless in trying to fill up the hole in the bottom line and I have to play my part.

For starters, the idiot box is no more. Gone. Kaput. Just like that. No, they didn’t break into the house. And no, the digital migration war was not a turning point. Nor was Mr G too broke to pay for Dstv, thank God. The idiot box is voluntarily locked up. Out of reach. For everyone, mama here included. Imagine that! It’s been two days and I am still suffering withdrawal symptoms. Everyone in the house is. So I am wondering who we are trying to impress. Ok. It was a consensual agreement. Because the grades were dropping, homework was not getting completed on time. Piano practice was down to no piano practice. Food was not getting eaten when it should be. Talk was down to mono-syllables. In other words, zombies were starting to reign. Something had to give. And the idiot box was the culprit. Or the victim, take your pick. So it’s packed for at least one year then we do a performance appraisal.

One year. We did it again a couple of years back. 2012. Another no-idiot-box year. Until the political temperatures started rising. Mr G and I became tired of playing catch up on what was happening and what was being said in the newspapers. We wanted to hear it straight from the horses’ mouths. Not reported speech, which by the way is always misquoted, or so they tell us. And so during the weekend before the presidential debates in February 2013, the idiot box graced our sitting room again.  And oh boy! What a feeling that was!

It was like a girl meeting her first love after so many years. Years of wishing that she hadn’t been so stupid to play hard to get. Years of wondering what he was up to yet not picking up the phone to call him. Years of wondering on whose bosom he lay at night. When she hears that he has been spotted in town, she gets ready each day in anticipation of running into him. Which does not happen because life isn’t that kind. Instead, she meets him when she is ill prepared or dressed up for that matter. But her heart doesn’t understand that now, does it? It fails her miserably. Making her feet flip flop, turning her knees into jelly, tying her tongue and erasing her memory of all the words she had practiced to say at that very moment. And Mr Idiot Box saves the day. He becomes the hero who rescues the damsel in distress. And the damsel is all too happy to follow his cue (see how the likes of Christian Grey gain control?) Our Mr Idiot Box has been in control ever since as we fought for the remote control trying to play catch up from where we had left a year or so earlier.

I must admit the hiatus period had its benefits. Even Miss M who takes the saying All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl too far…surprised us. Books were read. Exams were passed…with flying colors I must say (by the way, ever seen colors fly? Must remember to look up the origin of this phrase). And nobody died from idiot box fever. Everything was looking up. In hindsight, we should have boxed the thing immediately after the political hullabaloo was over (is it ever over anyway?) and returned to our ‘normal’ life. But hey? You all know how addictive it is. You watch the scandalous Thembeka on etv’s Scandal! (forget Kerry Washington’s Scandal) one day and you just want to know what happened the following day and the next and the next. By the way, that’s the only programme I follow so I don’t even know why I am whining about missing the idiot box. But truth be told, I also secretly enjoy the The Thundermans, Sam & Cat and other such like shows on the Nickelodeon channel. Oh! Except SpongeBob Square Pants and his shenanigans at Bikini Bottom – especially when there’s food on the table. He gives me the creeps! I say secretly, because when I laugh at the casts’ antiques, it is often used against me when later I proclaim tv time out. Like, “Mum, even you know how funny this show is, please let us watch just this once!” Never mind that the episodes are repeated tens of times.

Enough said about Mr Idiot Box. I must stop thinking about him and hope the whining has finally convinced my poor heart that the break up was for the best.

Back to more catch ups. Miss N is playing catch up with mummy dear. This has been her week. Estrogen has taken over her body and it’s been drama after drama. I pity Mr G though. Hope he does not drown in the levels of estrogen in that house!

I must now catch up with the butterer of bread.

Ciao!

Avid Reader

Last Saturday, my pre-teen daughter scooped the Avid Reader award in her class. It got me nostalgic about my younger days. Man! Did I read? I must have read every single book and scrap of paper I could lay my hands on. Nothing escaped my prawling eyes. If it was legible and not in the greek alphabet, I read it. Never mind the time or place. I read while eating. I read when holding the baby. I read when walking. I read when sleeping…well, almost. I read in the toilet – the newspaper cuttings had one last chance to serve their pre-destined purpose before being softened for other use and thrown into the sewer never to be seen again. My mother knew better than to send me to fetch something near books. Ten minutes later, she would still be waiting as I travelled to wherever the first page of whichever book that I laid my hands on took me.

I do not remember when I started reading newpapers. Maybe as a five or six year old. My father who was the only one who bought newsapers worked away from home and only came around on weekends. Mother had enough on her hands taking care of five, six or seven children to be bothered with newspapers. However, the Saturday or Sunday newspaper Father brought home was mine for the rest of the week. I devoured every page. Trying to understand the meaning of some news too complex for my mind. Like when the first President, Jome Kenyatta died. Thanks to a lack of television sets, the adults huddled around the one copy of newspaper available for information. When they were done, I picked it up, trying to piece together who and what they were brooding about. That particular time is still etched in my memory because I knew more about the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) than the man himself. You see, I was privileged to have accompanied my father to Tin Tin restaurant on the KICC grounds where an uncle worked. And we had taken a most-prized photo (not the kind where you touch the top of KICC) but one near the fountain with the old man in the background. In my mind, I could not reconcile the death of that magnificient building that I had not too long ago traversed its grounds!

On regular days, the newspaper leisure page was my favorite and there began my addiction with Andy Capp (cannot believe Daily Nation has been running that strip for this long!) and crossword puzzles that continued right through my adulthood, or at least upto motherhood. But the most hilarious experience must have been reading a blood-stained newspaper that had been used to wrap meat! Deputy President’s infamous remark that newspapers are only good for wrapping meat had some truth, after all! I wonder whether that still happens…

Anyway, our butcher back then had no qualms wrapping meat in newspapers. I remember him so clearly now. He was as famous as he was short. Wanjahi (may his soul rest in internal peace), for that was his name, was the sole distributor of meat in my locale for as long as I can remember. He was a master of his trade and the way he weighed the meat was a lesson in science. The weighing scale was of course the traditional type that came with separate weights. You put the desired weight on one side and the meat on the other. Now, Wanjahi did not not need to cut the meat twice trying to make the scale balance. No sir! He knew precisely the size that would match your preferred weight of meat. One chop and voila! The scale would agree with him. Never mind that more bones than you bargained for would find their way into your meat if you zubaad for just a bit! But I digress…

Once home, the chore of removing the pits of paper stuck on the meat began. One by one. Sometimes I was lucky to salvage the pieces of newspaper before Mother threw the whole lot into the fire, or the big black cat ran away with a big piece to find its luck. Other times, Wanjahi would have been generous in wrapping the meat in extra pages of Taifa Leo or Kenya Times, which meant more bloodstain-free pages. When all the newspaper evidence had been done away with, the task of cutting the meat began. My sister or I would hold the meat as Mother cut it into smaller pieces (no chopping board business here!) Woe unto me if I was holding the meat and reading the newspapers from the side. I would get distracted but a whack on the wrist (with the blade of the knife) would bring me back to the present! That would work for a while before my eyes were lured yet again to the newspaper. And again and again. And the whack would work each time. Again and again!

I had my share of storybooks to read but not as many as I would have liked. I must have re-read King Solomon’s Mines and Treasure Island enough times because they are the only ones I now remember. That was until I joined high school and I was introduced to the fantasy world of Mills & Boon. Which begs the question, “How did a Catholic, girls only school, run by strict nuns of the Precious Blood order allow such books on its library shelves?” I am not complaining though. A dose of romance to estrogen-filled teenage girls was perhaps the best medicine. I had enough romantic escapades courtesy of Mills & Boon than I care to remember. Wait! I even started writing one myself. I titled it Too Hot to Handle! I only wish I hadn’t been too afraid to be discovered to keep the manuscript…

Anyway, Sister Claire (God rest her soul, too!) was the minder of the hallowed ground that was the library. And, Oh! what a meticulous job she did! She was a no nonsense, sharp-tounged, old Goan lady in her early seventies. Or late sixties. It was hard to tell her age but to a teenager, she seemed really old! She didn’t hesitate calling those of us from the village who had trouble constructing proper English sentence ignorant dimwits! Her house rules were engaved in stone, not to be broken. For one, there was no wearing sweaters while going to the library no matter the weather (maybe so we could not sneak out a book). You had to walk in a single file when it was your class’s turn to the library. No running and no dragging of feet (you walked swiftly but orderly, like a lady!). No conversing. You picked your book, headed to her table where she stamped it and entered the details in the catalogue. All in silence. Her books were to remain in mint condition and if you were unlucky to drop one, you earned a lifetime ban from her library. Sr Claire, a teacher, a counsellor! She taught me to respect books, to embrace them, to view them in awe. But she also planted in me the fear of libraries. That fear is a story for another day.

Today, I am fascinated how my daughter shuts all out when engrossed in a book. Hell could open up its womb and she would fail to notice. The Queen could walk through the door and she wouldn’t as much as give her a glance. The power of a captivating story, read rather than seen or told! Hubby got the children membership in a library where she has exhausted all her age-appropriate books. Time and again, they have had to buy new books when she could not find any to read. According to her, she cannot fall asleep unless she is reading a book and I have to remember to pass by her bedroom each night to remove the book from her face! I understand. I know how powerful a force it can be. The force of a book beckoning you to read it!

I am the proud mother of an avid reader. Proud that the reading culture in me lives on. Proud that I have someone to discuss books with in the house. Proud that when I buy a book, I keep it for my daughter to read when she is old enough. Proud to watch a movie or a play based on a book we have both read. If only her siblings could catch on….